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Dib Sushi Bar and Thai Cuisine

1025 W. Lawrence | 773-561-0200

$$

ASIAN, THAI, JAPANESE | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | BYO

Neighborhood Thai-sushi restaurants are ubiquitous these days, but it's rare you'll find one as polished as this Uptown storefront. White floor-to-ceiling drapes hang in the large front windows that flood the room with light; the sushi bar is sleek and black—as are the chopsticks. The smell of teriyaki lured us into starting with yakitori, smoky and moist; besides the usual starters (gyoza, gomae, crab Rangoon) there's soft shell crab and hamachi sashimi with jalapeño. From the long list of maki—there are 37, including several vegetarian options—we chose the Black and White roll: superwhite tuna with avocado, cilantro, and jalapeño and splashed with lime, the flavors all nicely distinct. A Volcano roll (smoked salmon, yellowtail, crab, and octopus with spicy mayo) sold me by actually being spicy. The standard curries and Thai dishes are on offer, but we went with a "signature entree," chicken katsu and grilled eggplant in a rich green curry, which came bedecked with a frill of deep-fried vermicelli. There's a daily lunch special: appetizer, soup, and entree for between $6.50 and $7, and Dib is BYO for good. —Kate Schmidt

The Elephant

5348 W. Devon | 773-467-1168

$

ASIAN, THAI | LUNCH, DINNER: MONDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED SUNDAY | BYO

It was big news when Apinya "Ann" Leevathana opened the Elephant along a busy but culinarily humdrum stretch of Devon back in 2004—there still isn't another Thai restaurant for miles. Though Leevathana is from Bangkok and wears an apron covered with pictures of red chiles, she isn't pushing aggressively spicy dishes on her unsuspecting neighbors, but her interpretations of the usual suspects are well above average. Her egg rolls are crunchy and plump with glass noodles and garnished with large, fresh leaves of Thai basil. Chive dumplings, which can so easily deliquesce into soggy blobs, come out of her kitchen crisp and hot. Her hand-cut papaya salad gives a slow burn that shouldn't scare off anyone (ask for it with dried shrimp, which is how Thais usually eat it). Leevathana really shines on the specials board: I had a salmon fillet, dressed in slivered ginger, that was cooked perfectly, moist and medium rare. She can be prodded to ramp up the heat too—the larb chicken and tom yum goong provided the burning ecstatic high I jones for. For dessert she has a few different bubble teas, another anomaly this far northwest of Argyle and Chinatown, but maybe the sweetest finish is when she bestows free fruit upon her customers, with a salt, sugar, and chile mixture to dredge it in, or plain fresh pears from her own tree. —Mike Sula

Grande Noodles and Sushi Bar

6632 N. Clark | 773-761-6666

$

Lunch, Dinner: seven days | BYO

This restaurant stands out amid the Mexican bakeries and taquerias on far North Clark. The stylish lavender and orange walls are hung with kitchen utensils and a black-and-white photo montage of flowers; the cuisine is a Japanese-Thai hybrid. Platters of fresh, generously cut sushi, maki combination plates, and bento boxes are reasonably priced, as are relatively standard but nicely prepared Thai specialties (all under $9) like the mildly seasoned Seafood Delight with shelled mussels, squid, shrimp, and crabmeat stick tossed with fresh red and green peppers, napa cabbage, pea pods, and baby corn. For lighter appetites there's a salad with warm ground chicken, beef, or pork served on greens; cold cabbage and shredded carrots topped with peanuts; close to 50 individual nigiri sushi; and some interesting maki like the sweet potato tempura roll (with green onion, cream cheese, and wasabi mayo). —Laura Levy Shatkin

Indie Cafe

5951 N. Broadway | 773-561-5577

$$

ASIAN, THAI, JAPANESE | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | BYO

Indie Cafe serves Thai and Japanese food way above average in terms of quality, presentation, and value. The Andaman Salad, for instance—a substantial melange of shrimp, scallops, and calamari tossed with red onion, shredded carrots, and a sauce made with lemongrass, lime, and hot peppers—perfectly balances sweet, salty, spicy, and crunchy. The richness of the red curry and the subtle sweetness of the coconut milk in the Indie Signature Curry are likewise exquisitely counterpoised—it's tempting to slurp the leftover sauce straight from the bowl when you're done with the tender chunks of beef and potato. The sushi is delicious too. The Volcano Roll is nori rolled tight around thick slices of smoked salmon, yellowtail, crab, and octopus, with a luscious spicy mayo and speckles of bright red sriracha hot sauce on top. The individual nigiri, two to an order, are fresh, generous cuts of fish on delicately seasoned rice pillows. Everything is arranged beautifully: maki slices stand in a circle next to tiny mountains of ginger and wasabi and swirls of spicy mayo dotted with black sesame seeds; curries have sprigs of greens jutting out and frilly herb garnishes. —Laura Levy Shatkin

Kan Pou

4256 N. Western | 773-866-2839

$$

ASIAN, THAI | LUNCH: MONDAY, WEDNESDAY-SATURDAY; DINNER: Sunday-Monday, wednesday-saturday | closed Tuesday | BYO

When Doungpon Morakotjantachote arrived in Chicago a few years ago, she was surprised to find that no one was baking for the local Thai community. So she started making cookies and sweets for one of the local Thai food shops. Since then, she and her husband have opened a full-fledged restaurant along the Western Avenue Thai strip, but as the name—Thai for "cloves"—suggests, sweets are still the real point of distinction. Entrees like pad thai and chicken basil are typical Ameri-Thai, sweetened up for the farang palate but freshly made and pleasing. The most novel item is alien-egg-looking sakoo dumplings, little balls of spiced chicken and sweet turnip coated in cassava, the same gummy starch used for tapioca and bubble tea. But the real reward comes at the end of the meal—at the very least you'll want to sample the butter cookies brightly flavored with lemongrass, ginger, and sesame seed, or indulge in a dessert sampler made up of a changing variety of eye-opening tastes and textures employing traditional ingredients such as coconut, custard, and sweetened bean paste. —Michael Gebert

Manee Thai #2

1546-48 W. Chicago | 312-733-3339

$

ASIAN, THAI, JAPANESE | LUNCH monday-friday; DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | open late: friday & saturday till 11 | BYO

An offshoot of an Avondale standby that suffered a fire, Manee Thai #2 replaces another Thai restaurant in this tidy West Town double storefront, which remains uninviting despite efforts to dress it up with sequined velvet hangings and other art works. The extensive menu is called "pan-Asian," but except for some Chinese-inspired offerings, Thai dishes are the way to go. We skipped the obvious satay and spring rolls from the 20-some appetizers and enjoyed angel wings, deep-fried wing tips stuffed with seasoned ground chicken, and chive dumplings with sweet chile soy sauce. Fun-to-share "7 Buddies Maeng Khum" brought together toasted coconut flakes, peanuts, dried shrimp, ginger, shallots, and tiny lime pieces, all piled on mini lettuce leaves (rather than the traditional pandan) meant to be folded and dipped in a complex sauce (or sauced, then folded, which is neater); the seventh buddy, diced fresh green chiles, was on the side as an optional add-in. Tom yum soup had the requisite spicy-tart kick, but next time I'll opt for shrimp rather than the dry chicken breast. Pad thai, thinner-than-average rice noodles coated with tamarind sauce, fared well with shrimp, and a healthy squeeze of lime counteracted the sweetness. Basil duck featured tender slices of meat and all the right stuff, even if fiery green chiles overpowered the basil. I also liked the thick green coconut-milk curry with Thai baby eggplant, bamboo shoots, and a choice of meat and catfish pad ped, crispy morsels of deep-fried fish with vegetables and green chiles in red-curry paste. Ice creams, listed as house-made, included first-rate creamy coconut, but little squares of sticky rice topped with taro custard were much too sweet. Service was speedy. —Anne Spiselman

Opart Thai House

4658 N. Western | 773-989-8517

$

ASIAN, THAI | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

Of the dozens of Thai storefronts dotting Chicago neighborhoods, some are good, most are not, and only a few stand out. Opart Thai House in Lincoln Square is one of those few. With more than 100 items on the menu, it offers the gamut of flavors, from sweet to kick-ass spicy, and a huge variety of ingredients. Appetizers include three versions of charbroiled beef with spicy Thai sauces (the Tiger Cry is a must), along with crispy sweet-and-sour mee krob, spring rolls, and satay. Salads (larb, nam sod, and green papaya, among others) are meals in themselves. The many curry, noodle, and rice dishes are sauteed or stir-fried with seafood, poultry, beef, or one of endless combinations of fresh vegetables and sauces. Some favorites include pad king (sauteed ginger, onions, mushrooms, and pea pods), pad kra praow (sauteed basil, hot peppers, and garlic over rice), and seafood with green and white onions. Desserts aren't much and there's no bar, but there is a liquor store right next door. —Paul Schoenwetter

Spoon Thai

4608 N. Western | 773-769-1173

$

ASIAN, THAI | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | BYO

It's not like there's been a revolution against boring Thai food in Chicago, but there's certainly a healthy resistance, and it was born several years ago in Chai and Vanna Gumtrontip's little Lincoln Square restaurant. It began in the summer of '03 with the discovery of the Thai-language "secret menu" by a handful of obsessive chowhounds, who had it translated and began plumbing the depths of its aggressive, brilliantly seasoned dishes. Word spread, and though waitstaff sometimes had a hard time believing that non-Thais had the stomach for the real stuff, eventually they stopped blinking and began relinquishing funky Issan sausage, rich boat noodles, banana blossom salad, one-bite salad, incendiary papaya salad sprinkled with dried shrimp or pickled crab, and the miraculous Thai-style fried chicken (kai thawt), deeply penetrated with lemongrassy, peppery flavors and served with a tamarind dipping sauce. I'm a long way from navigating the depths of this vast repertoire, but so far some of my favorite items are naem khao thawt, a tangy, crispy fried rice salad with peanuts, cilantro, and pressed ham; phat phrik sa-taw muu sap, minced pork and bitter beans; and Issan-style minced duck salad. —Mike Sula

Sticky Rice Thai

4018 N. Western | 773-588-0133

$

THAI | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: MONDAY-SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

The first time I went to the northern Thai-focused Sticky Rice it was by chance. The half-dozen return visits in the next month? Those were intentional. A wonder cabinet of Thai food, Sticky Rice, run by a charming and very patient staff, is endlessly interesting and cheap enough to serve as your substitute kitchen. Their standard English-language menu would be novel enough, with things like deep-fried quail and shrimp on sugarcane, but thanks to a translation of the lengthy Thai-language menu, the options are almost inexhaustible. Among the standouts are banana blossom salad, Burmese-style curry, duck curry with lychees, and northern Thai larb (made with ground pork and intestine). The only real problem with Sticky Rice is that it's so hard to relinquish these known pleasures for unknowns. But be bold: you can't spend your whole life eating jellyfish salad. Also, for those interested in real grub: with dishes like fried worms and ant-egg omelet in season, Sticky Rice is your Chicagoland insect-eating destination. —Nicholas Day

TAC Quick

3930 N. Sheridan | 773-327-5253

$

ASIAN, THAI | LUNCH, DINNER: SUNDAY-MONDAY, WEDNESDAY-SATURDAY | CLOSED TUESDAY | BYO

Young Andy Aroonrasameruang, formerly of Banana Leaf, and his likable staff probably make it easier than anywhere else to get traditional stuff the way it's eaten in Thailand. Aside from the regular menu there's a clearly translated Thai menu available by request with almost 40 items you're not likely to encounter elsewhere without a working knowledge of the language—like a salad of shrimp, cashews, and fish maw, sort of a fishy pork rind that soaks up the flavor of the sauce like a crouton. Some were surprisingly rich and luscious for Thai cuisine, like minced chicken sweetened with thick soy sauce, garnished with crispy fried basil leaves, and served over quartered preserved duck eggs. TAC, which stands for Thai Authentic Cuisine, doesn't do breakfast, but they serve an omelet topped with pieces of chicken breast and doused with green curry that I would love to wake up to. Pad thai—which in many places has turned into the worst kind of bland, oversweetened mush—takes on another life when it's folded into an omelet. Aroonrasameruang pushes some excellent things on his specials boards too, including a tender grilled pork neck that approaches the narcotic succulence of the best barbecue. He also does a wild-boar curry with green Thai eggplant and meaty chunks of swine rimmed with thick rinds of gorgeous fat. It would take a good week of dedicated eating to work through all the interesting things on the menu. I was lucky enough to attend a special dinner at which the chef prepared a few things not put to paper, including a deep-fried mud fish topped with shredded green mango. Such dishes aren't always available, but you might get lucky if you ask. —Mike Sula

Thai Pastry

4925 N. Broadway | 773-784-5399

$

ASIAN, THAI | LUNCH, DINNER: SEVEN DAYS | OPEN LATE: FRIDAY & SATURDAY TILL 11 | BYO

A display case at the front of this room presents exquisite pastries created by chef-owner Aumphai ("Add") Kusub: pink-and-green rice vermicelli, jewel-toned mini gelatin molds, and a variety of beautiful cakes. The menu is just as enticing, full of offerings like kuchai, pillows of freshly rolled rice noodles stuffed with chive greens in a sweet and spicy vinegar sauce. The pad lad na is a wonderful dish of wide, flat noodles in a dark sauce with shrimp and broccoli rabe. A showstopper from the back of the menu is the clam curry—lots of perfectly steamed shelled clams with long, flat strips of sour bamboo in a red curry coconut-milk broth. —Laura Levy Shatkin

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