As the great philosopher 2 Chainz once said on his Vice show Most Expensivest, “Could you explain what the hell type of noodles I’m about to get myself into?”

Khao soi, pronounced “cow soy,” is a dish from Northern Thailand. Although there’s a Lao version by the same name that’s made with rice noodles and a tomato-based curry, that’s not what we’re talking about. Thai khao soi is a tangle of egg noodles in a coconut-based curry broth, and the dish also traditionally contains pickled mustard greens, shallots, lime juice, fried ground chilis, and chicken or some other meat. Veggie versions are miscellaneously available too.

Khao soi’s signature move is that it wears a bird’s nest of crispy egg noodles as a hat—the same kind of noodles that’re in the broth, except fried out—and then you stir it up and create a diverse bricolage of texture and flavor. It’s creamy and chewy and piquant and earthy and tart and crunchy and sour and spicy and smooth. The richness of the broth and the pickly bits are additional delights that set this dish apart from similar ones. 

I promise that I don’t think I discovered khao soi—I know I’m one of the last doofuses to arrive at the party here and am not trying to Columbus this shit, having just learned about it over the summer from TikTok. But it’s getting chilly again this weekend, so I’m reminded that it’s the perfect time to get hooked on khao soi, if you’re not already! 

As such, I met three different friends with three different palates at three different Thai restaurants to get their takes on khao soi, just as a fun writing device. They could order whatever they wanted as their own entree, on me, but the rule was that they had to try the khao soi. There are at least a dozen Seattle restaurants to find it at—I chose my three faves for these dinner dates. Here’s how they went.

Bess the Sensitive Eater

Buddha Ruksa, West Seattle

Bess at Buddha Ruksa with a chicken-coconut-cilantro steam cloud freshly inhaled inside of her skull. Khao soi is a spiritual experience. Take it from a goth. Meg van Huygen

Bess is my tight bro since forever. We were teenage goths at Nova High School, and she’s now an adult goth who writes books about gothick things like ghosts and famous corpses. Bess is more attuned to scent than anyone I’ve known. She often comments on all the flowers and fruit and soap and spices we encounter just out in the world, and she’s mystically able to name each precise element of whatever she’s smelling. Although she rarely drinks, she always asks to sniff my fancy cocktail. Bess has some food sensitivities and stays away from dairy and gluten as well (this becomes pertinent later in the story). 

We went to Buddha Ruksa in West Seattle, which has a rep for serving “super authentic Thai food,” according to a few friends from northern Thailand. The restaurant was a mob scene on a Friday, despite the absolute pissing rain outside. I got a pleasant cocktail with lotus-infused vodka that definitely got sniffed. Khao soi is traditionally made with chicken, but notably, Buddha Ruksa offers chicken, shrimp, beef, and veggie covers. 

When the khao soi arrived, Bess’s first move was to silently lean down, close her eyes, and inhale the herbal-coconutty chicken cloud suspended above the bowl. Very sensual and Besslike, and I just loved her for it. The soup elicited an ooooh from her as well on the first bite, and she mentioned the spice profile of the curry right away—turmeric, coriander, lemongrass, chili.

We ordered some other stuff I don’t remember and ignored it, laser-focusing in unison on the khao soi. Nothing else mattered. 

“Does it have gluten in it?” she asked with a mouth full of noodles. 

“I believe so!” I said.

“Maybe they’re rice noodles?”

“No, babe, I think they’re wonton noodles, made from wheat flour and eggs.”

“Oh. Well. This is really fucking good. I’m gonna pay for it later, but I don’t care right now.” 

I suggested that that’s Future Bess’s problem, not her problem. She nodded sagely and took another bite. 

“No dairy, though, right?”

“Nope, It’s all coco and meat fat.”

“Okay, I’m just gonna drink the broth.”

In addition to being delicious, the khao soi at Buddha Ruksa was the prettiest in the test group. The soup’s more liquidy in comparison to some others, not too spicy, with plenty of fun garnishes and fresh herbs—perfect for olfactory-oriented Bess. Chicken was repping hard in the broth, winning over the coconut milk, but to marvelous effect. There’s pickled ginger among the accouterments, perhaps my favorite part, as well as some pungent raw red onion. Seems fluffy to say, but interacting with all these fresh ingredients and visually taking them in really does make a difference when it comes to enjoying one’s meal, I think. Our senses were engaged to the max. So aesthetic.

We returned to Buddha Ruksa a few weeks later and I tried the veggie khao soi to see if it used the same chickeny broth, which it did not! Still nice and coconutty and curry-ey, but chicken-free as far as we could tell. The veg rendition was less rich, obviously, but we both found it nearly as ooh-inspiring. 

Simon the Reformed Garbage Dump Who Now Eats Veggies, Apparently ❤️

Djan’s Thai Restaurant, Wallingford

Simon at Djan’s, being mercurially enthusiastic about the khao soi. I know he really liked the crispy noodle wreath, at least. Meg van Huygen

Simon is my ex. For the six years we dated, I knew him to cheerfully eat anything, with zero dietary restrictions or hesitations. His favorite restaurant was Buffalo Wild Wings, and I’m not being mean. We used to live in NYC and had a Sunday ritual where we’d take the train to the Atlantic-Pacific stop, watch a foreign art film at the Brooklyn Art Museum, and then temper some of that fance with dinner at Buffalo Wild Wings. Simon once microwaved some Target-brand blue cheese crumbles onto a plate of low-sodium Triscuits and called it “gourmet nachos.” And ate it. He fairly lived on Honey Dips from Peter Pan Donuts back in Greenpoint. Khao soi was about to be some serious haute cuisine for this dude. 

By the way, can I just say that I used to live next to Djan’s for years, at 45th and Latona, and I slept on this place the whole time? Foolishly? It’s so beautiful. The restaurant is in an old Colonial Revival house with breezy tropical decor, live orchids, and sunlight streaming in from the picture window. We felt like we were in a Babyface video.

I said you can get whatever you want, so Simon ordered tofu and broccoli in oyster sauce, which… seemed off-brand. “I recently read in a SCIENCE BOOK,” he said winkingly, “that if you eat vegetables first on an empty stomach, it doesn’t matter what else you eat, because your body will be insulated by the vegetables. Protected. So the idea is that if I eat this BROCCOLI first, then I can eat the khao soi and it won’t have any ill effects on my BODY.”

“First of all, since when do you eat any vegetables, period? And secondly, like… haw haw, eating vegetables negates fatty foods, good dad joke, but what do you think khao soi is gonna do?”

“Well, it seems pretty rich.” 

“Yeah, but it’s mostly coconut milk. Plant fat. And since when do you care?” 

“Hey, I go to the gym now.”

Eyeroll. We shared the oyster-sauced broccoli with tofu, which was garlicky and great! Then our cauldron of khao soi arrived, a vision to behold. The khao soi at Djan’s could easily feed three adults, and I say that as a big tall person who’s always hungry. This stuff is muy rico—you could cut the broth with a knife. Only a little looser than the curry sauce you dip your fries into in the UK. The pickled mustard greens were presented in a tiny dish with a lime wedge, and another dish held chili paste, so you can adjust your flavoring agents manually. I dumped it all into the soup without asking. 

Djan’s only does chicken khao soi, and there’s tons and tons of chicken meat in there! The most possible meat! The pickled greens were super powerful, as were the spices in the curry. There was a surfeit of noodles as well, like eggy cappellini, and the lovely addition of fried shallots, red onion, and fresh cilantro. And there was just so much of it all. A downright luxurious meal.

I don’t remember if we got an ooh out of him, but Simon professed to love the khao soi and ate it enthusiastically. But then he’d start to gently protest as he ate.

“It’s seriously unlike anything I’ve had at a Thai restaurant,” he said, “and the textures and flavors combine incredibly, especially the crispy noodles and the soft noodles, but… where are all the vegetables? It gets dinged for not having any vegetables.” Multiple times, he explained that there’s not enough vegetables in this khao soi. “Glad I ordered this tofu and broccoli! On account of the khao soi not having any vegetables!”

“Who even are you? Did the gym teach you to talk this way?” 

He’s right that it’s rich, especially compared to the other khao soi in this culinary experiment, but to me, that’s good, not bad. Oh, no, I can’t eat too much of this cake because it’s just too delicious. 

Simon swiveled back and forth on his oh-I-just-don’t-know-about-khao-soi shtick throughout the meal, but he sure ate it. As we left, he concluded, “Well, I’m passing thrilled to have a new go-to for Thai food! Pad see ew? More like pad see who??” because he is a sweet punny old dad now. But then he refused the leftovers when I offered them, so I don’t know what to believe. 

FWIW, I took them home and simmered them back up the next day with a cup of chicken stock, which evened out the curry broth perfectly. Deliriously good. God, I’m a genius.

Mark the Urban Foodie

Kin Len Thai Street Bites, Fremont

Mark in his element at Kin Len, with his own personal bowl of khao soi. See, this guy knows what to do. Meg van Huygen

Mark is my writer friend who knows everything about every type of food. You really can’t stump him. He lives downtown on purpose, so that he may centrifugally explore the city’s best restaurants with ease. Mark also has the preternatural skill of looking at a menu and knowing what the best thing is to order, even if the menu’s written poorly and things are described shittily. He still knows what they’re trying to communicate, because he’s eaten everything in the world, so he can transliterate any vague description into a concrete food idea and just know what to do. An unsung skill in the world, I say.

So of course, Mark already knew all about khao soi and recommended a restaurant to me: Kin Len Thai Street Bites in Fremont. I’d never been or even heard anyone talk about it, but the place was packed, so it seems like IYKYK. Snappy resto with a buzzy date-night atmosphere and lots of cool neon and upcycled Thai-language street market signs. We each ordered our own bowls of khao soi—very smartly, as it turned out. The menu offers tofu, chicken, or prawn khao soi, but we both got chix.

This was my favorite khao soi experience of the three. Kin Len’s thing is Isarn-style Thai food, and folks rave over the gai tod (crispy wings with sticky rice) as well as the red curry, but I think the khao soi is the real prince of this menu. It’s complicated and opulent and intense, with big slabs of dark-meat chicken and plenty of heat. Generally, khao soi is yellow curry-colored, but theirs is orangey-red like a sunrise from all the extra chili oil in the mix. They give you a little auxiliary cuppy of chili oil as well.

View this post on Instagram

A post shared by MAKENA | SEATTLE FOOD BLOGGER (@seattle.grub)

We both ooohed straight away, as one does when eating khao soi. “Already, I feel like this is the most unctuous khao soi in Seattle,” Mark said. “Like, here’s all your coconut fat, and then how about a bunch of rendered chicken fat from the entire chicken leg that’s stewing in the broth?”

I’d also noted the whorls and eddies of iridescent chilified chicken fat floating on the surface. The broth was still brothy and free-flowing, though. Kin Len’s was the loosest broth in the triumvirate here, and at once somehow the richest. 

“Clearly, this khao soi isn’t for everybody,” Mark went on, “but I’m really happy with it? Like, I personally love how committed to dark meat they are. I don’t want to say it’s ‘uncompromising,’ because that feels too close to the authenticity trap, but they’re just like… we don’t care. Meat on the bone. That’s what khao soi has in it.” 

No, dude, that’s the word. This khao soi doesn’t compromise. It’s fiery as fuck and full of liquid fat and dark meat and bones and someone’s leg. Definitely a mild barrier to entry here. It wasn’t difficult to free the meat from the bone, and 90% of it was already bone-free, but I can see certain people being standoffish about that. Good news! Kin Len does not care.

My only complaint about Kin Len’s khao soi is that the pickled mustard greens were chopped really fine and I wanted way more of them. Oh, also, I went back a while later and ordered the prawn version, which featured the same extravagant, complicated broth for the same price but only had five prawns in it, so don’t do this. They were big prawns, but the chicken khao soi with the half-pound of luscious dark meat is the way to go. 


The verdict: everyone loves khao soi! And it is history’s most perfect cold-weather food. You should go eat some unless you can’t have gluten or your gym has been evangelizing the gospel of 24/7 vegetables at you. It may be done snowing (or is it???), but the silver Seattle sky is still gonna pour for a couple months solid, and you need some spicy, herbal-scented coconut soup noodles with lots of fat and carbohydrates to survive the rainy winter. Eat khao soi and you will not perish.