Part of a series of restaurant recommendations offered in The Stranger’s 2017 Guide to Food and Drink (International Edition).
Good Thai food abounds in Seattle, but Phinney Ridge's Mai Thaiku leads the charge to greatness. While the kitchen dabbles expertly in popular favorites like pad thai and chicken satay, most of the menu takes under-sung Thai specialties and knocks them out of the park. The half-dozen styles of papaya salad cater to every taste—as long as it includes the zing of green papaya and lime. Raw prawns in lime juice with bitter melon bite like ceviche, and diners can play with their food by wrapping wild pepper leaves around ginger, lime, onion, peanuts, and coconut for the snack called mieng kahm. NAOMI TOMKY
Serving the bold specialties of Northern Thailand from a spot in trendy Ballard, Pestle Rock achieves a balance between being cool and modern, and serving the traditional flavors of its homeland. Grilled wild boar collar and house-made herbed pork sausage share menu space with deep-fried fish-sauce-marinated chicken wings, and diners can wash down the kao soi—coconut chicken curry soup with egg noodles and pickled mustard greens—with herb infused vodka, or a drink marrying the flavors of tom yum soup into a cocktail. NAOMI TOMKY
It's all about the noodles at this three-decades-old International District mainstay, Cambodian food that touches on the flavors of Vietnam, Laos, and Thailand, too. Traditional soups start with a rich foundation of house herb broth, and are usually finished with roasted garlic, green onion and cilantro. Among the highlights are the foursome beef noodle (a spiced Cambodian beef stew with meat balls, sliced beef, tripe, and wide rice noodles), and Battambang's Favorite Noodle (served dry, sans broth), with ground shrimp, pan roasted peanuts, salted radish, pickled cucumber, and hard-boiled egg on a bed of sweet soy sauce roasted rice noodles and bean sprouts. Don't leave without an order of Phnom Penh chicken wings, a perfect mélange of spicy and sweet, sautéed with jalapeños and green onions in a black pepper garlic honey sauce; you can also get jumbo prawns made the same way. LEILANI POLK
Specializing in the spicier, more aromatic flavors of the Northeastern Isaan region of Thailand, SOI has a rather intriguing menu of unexpectedly delectable offerings. But you want to hit the Capitol Hill restaurant during happy hour—when you can get a $6 tamarind whiskey sour or lemongrass rickey with your meal—or brunch. The brunch menu features dishes like the kai grata (two over-easy eggs served in a skillet with slices of pork belly, sweet Chinese sausage, green onions, tomato, and spinach) and cheat-on-your-GF-diet-worthy roti (the flatbread pastry seducer in my case was the phaya thai—made with banana and peanut butter, and topped with hazelnut whipped cream). LEILANI POLK
There's always a nonsensically long wait for a table at Thai Tom, but it makes perfect sense once you've been there. The food is pretty much straight Thai classics, but done so well, you'll want to cry. The space itself is tiny, and while securing a spot at the counter is an experience in and of itself—the chefs work at a lightning-fast pace, often snatching stray vegetables straight out of the wok-heating flames with bare hands—it's often easier to get take-out. Their pad thai, panang curry, or deep-fried tofu is just as delicious devoured on the nearby UW quad as it is in house. Also, they're not kidding about the heat levels. This is not the place to be a spice hero. TOBIAS COUGHLIN-BOGUE
This is one of the oldest Thai restaurants in Seattle. During the 1990s, when we reached peak Thai, Tup Tim Thai was a standby. The restaurant is located in a cozy Lower Queen Anne house, so it feels very homey and comfortable, like eating in your fantasy Thai parents' living room. If you're expecting inventive food, you will be disappointed. It's standard (and affordable) fare: pad thai, pad see ew, panang curry, and the like. The dishes will be served as spicy as you need them to be—the hotter, the better. TRICIA ROMANO