The other day, a friend and I were talking about our mutual obsession with Tom Kah soup, and how Thai food has been having its way with Austin diners for the last decade. Sway, Chef Rene Ortiz's new restaurant, serves up buzzy, fusion Thai -- but there are tons of yummy hole-in-the-walls here, too. These are some of the best.
Thai Passion isn't a "hole in the wall" per se, but it's a popular lunch meeting spot for downtown types -- casual and bright, with $6.50 lunch specials. The Thai offerings are solid -- not crazy hot, not bland -- and the pineapple rice in particular has many fans. Speaking of downtown types, I should mention that Thai Passion is open until 3:00am: Useful if your downtown activities involve more vodka shots than, say, business proposals.
A cozy little West Campus outfit, with huge bowls of curry, wall-mounted TV's, and reliably filling late-night party food. Or hangover food, depending on how long your party lasted.
For the longest time, my husband and I erroneously pronounced the name of this place as "Titty Ya-Ya's" (I don't recommend you calling it that). Despite our mistake, we recommended Titaya's to so many people that now the secret is out. It's always packed, and for good reason: The Tom Kha! So spicy and creamy. The portions! So generous. Dinner here, and a movie at the Village Drafthouse afterward, make for a lovely date night.
This popular W. Mary eatery offers more than a menu full of Thai standards -- they offer cooking classes, too. With an emphasis on simply prepared meals using potent, quality ingredients, Thai Fresh's classes and owners have spawned a community of foodies who not only love the food, but savor the culture.
Coat & Thai may be the food trailer on South Congress that you glanced at and chuckled, "Huh! Funny!" before continuing on to Mighty Cone or Hey Cupcake. But Coat & Thai is worth being your next SoCo food trailer destination, and when it is, order the Cashew Chicken -- sauteed with celery, onions, and tangy pineapple, it's so good, it'll leave you tongue-Thai'd.
This place has a sweet backstory: The owner's boyfriend was so impressed with her cooking, he demanded she open a food trailer (and forked over the money to help her). Several months later Trai Mai Thai opened, and its menu offers hearty portions of Thai soul food: Pad Thai, Green Curry, Red Curry. Did we mention they serve free beer? Seriously.
When the original opened on Guadalupe near UT, many Austinites had never tried Thai before. There are now three locations of Madam Mam's, including the largest one on Anderson Road, and its menu offers straightforward Thai classics. I especially like the Tom Yum soup: an enormous bowl of flavorful lemongrass broth, it hits the spot during that one month when Austin gets chilly.
Couldn't they have tried harder on their restaurant name? I agree, but I think all the effort must have gone into the menu, because Thai Cuisine is incredibly delicious. A friend recommended it to me recently, and it's such a hidden little gem in north Austin: Homemade coconut ice cream, fried bananas, spicy green curry that doesn't eviscerate my taste buds. Service here is fast, the food is piping hot, and there's virtually no wait, even at peak dinner times.
Let's face it: Sometimes Thai restaurants have a heavy hand with that coconut milk. But Thai Taste tends toward lighter, healthier fare, with brown rice, steamed vegetables, and overall sodium levels that don't prey on your vulnerable blood pressure. That being said, they don't hold back on their Jungle Curry if you crave something slightly more decadent -- the dish's spicy, creamy spoonfuls will probably last you a meal or six.
Don't let the fact that Golden Corral is next door scare you: Chang Thai is the real deal. A "pot" (re: barrel) of Po-Tak soup, a traditional Thai seafood soup, is pleasingly spicy and amply-filled with scallops, squid, shrimp, and other fruits of the sea. One serving is about $13, and there's no possible way you can finish it, but this is take-out that won't get gross in your fridge. I know, because I've tested this theory.
Thai House is surrounded by a Planned Parenthood, a Black-Eyed Pea, and I believe a dentist's office, so it's understandable if you've never ventured in -- its surroundings are not sexy. But if you do, you'll be pleasantly surprised by light, non-soggy dumplings, flavorful, rich Panang Curry, and over the weekend, a two-for-one lunch buffet.