Ordering pad thai is like ordering the margherita pizza: it offers a good benchmark for a kitchen abilities. The thrilling, filling mix of stir-fried rice noodles, peanuts, egg, and fish sauce is a staple of both Thai street food and NYC restaurants. Here are our picks for the city’s best versions. By Jessica Allen.
Portland’s Andy Ricker brought his beloved recipes for Thai food to Brooklyn’s Red Hook in 2012, then quickly opened Pok Pok Wing on the Lower East Side. Eventually that restaurant closed and Pok Pok Phat Thai was born, a turn of events worth rejoicing over. Its pad thai starts with rice noodles fried in pork fat, to which pressed tofu, palm sugar, preserved radish, fish sauce, garlic chives, and dried shrimp, among other ingredients, are added. It comes vegan, with prawns, with ground pork, or as a soup.
Talking about SriPraPhai makes many diners breathless. This Woodside restaurant has long been the go-to for true Thai food in New York, a Mecca of flavor, a shrine to authenticity. SriPraPhai’s pad thai includes bean sprouts, shrimp, crushed peanuts, egg, and sautéed rice noodles. When chef/owner Sripraphai Tipmanee first came to the US more than 30 years ago, she worked as a nurse. Nowadays, via her eponymous restaurant, she continues to care for people, by making sure everyone eats well and partakes mightily of her flavorful fare.
Long a favorite of the neighborhood, Wondee Siam actually has two locations very close to one another in Hell’s Kitchen. Both make a mean pad thai, combining thin, sautéed thin rice noodles with egg, bean curd, scallions, bean sprouts, and ground peanuts. Order it with chicken or shrimp, then round out your meal with a dish or two from its “Secret Thai Menu,” including kaoew teaw kuaw kai (chicken, cabbage, and sauteed rice noodles) and yum moo yang (spicy grilled pork salad).
Timid palates beware! Ayada is not for them, or for anyone who can’t handle the spice. Here, even pad thai, which is generally a relatively tame choice, gets a star on the menu, to indicate kick. Whereas SriPraPhai has a large space to hold its crowds, the more intimate Ayada asks folks to wait outside—and you’ll likely have to queue up. No matter. Kill the time by thinking about what else you’re going to order, including the fermented sausage, drunken noodles, a whole fried fish, and papaya salad with or without shrimp or crab.
At this little, elegantly modern restaurant in the West Village, pad thai means rice noodles doused with tamarind sauce, then sautéed with scallions, peanuts, smoked tofu, and egg. Perhaps the best deal comes at sunset, when you can choose one appetizer, one main dish (including pad thai), and one drink for $15 (the so-called sunset menu). But there are lunch specials too. All these meal deals might make you forget just how elegant this place can be at night, when the sun goes down and the low lights come on.