7 Chicago Thai gems that will take you back to Bangkok

By Nicole Bruce

There's more to Thai food than your usual pad Thai takeout. Southeast Asia's rich curries, seared meats, and sautéed vegetables make for bold, spicy, and complex flavor profiles. Whether you're a curry devotee or a papaya salad fan, Chicago's best Thai restaurants serve exceptional, authentic fare. From under-the-radar BYOB neighborhood gems to crown jewels by high-profile chefs, here are seven of the most delicious Thai spots to taste test in the city.

J.J. Thai Street Food
A relative newcomer to Chicago's Thai food scene, this 28-seat, BYOB spot turns out unapologetically delicious bowls of guay tiew moo thoon (a rice noodle soup with pork and pork ball), som tom (green papaya salad with dried shrimp), pla muk yang (grilled squid served with spicy seafood sauce), and sani-krok e-sarn (a grilled, Thai-style pork and sour rice sausage). Polish off your meal with a coconut pudding for dessert.
Neighborhood: Ukrainian Village MAP

Andy's Thai Kitchen
Former Tac Quick chef Andy Aroonrasameruang opened up his own spot to craft bold and spicy dishes like a simultaneously fiery and refreshingly cool blue crab salad, kao soy (Thai curry with chicken and a nest of crispy egg noodles), and boat noodles (beef brisket and pork rinds with thin rice noodles in a sweet and spicy broth). He recently expanded from the cozy, cash-only Lakeview digs by opening up another ATK location in Edgewater, which features some new dishes and seasonal outdoor dining, accepts credit cards, and is also BYOB.
Neighborhood: Lakeview MAP Edgewater MAP

Arun's Thai Restaurant
Chef Arun Sampanthavivat goes outside the box with exquisite, beautifully presented multi-course meals. If you're willing to splurge on Thai food, this award-winning upscale spot's ever-changing prix fixe tasting menus ($100 for 10 courses and $125 for 12 courses) and intensely flavorful family-style dishes are the way to go. The recently revamped space's tasting menu features new dishes like a five flower pork with a peppery turmeric curry sauce and also fan-favorites like massaman beef curry and mee kati coconut noodles, as well as a seasonally-rotating craft cocktail program.
Neighborhood: Albany Park MAP

Aroy Thai Restaurant
At this neighborhood BYOB gem hiding under the L tracks, you’ll discover truly authentic eats that aren't typically found on other Thai restaurant menus. Intriguingly rich and funky dishes like the spicy hot and sour tom yum beef ball and tendon soup, stir-fried salted mackerel fish with Chinese broccoli and Thai peppers in a bean sauce, and spicy phrik khing with crispy pork and a ginger chile paste go way beyond pad Thai.
Neighborhood: Lincoln Square/Ravenswood MAP

Immm Rice & Beyond
This fast-casual BYOB joint in Uptown is introducing Chicagoans to traditional Thai "street food" from Bangkok and beyond. Since many dishes may not be familiar to most, they encourage customers to taste before committing. With the steam table (or buffet) lineup changing daily, you're bound to find dishes you've never tried before—from a half dozen versions of som tom (green papaya salad) to nam ya (curry with fish balls) to khao soi (a chicken-coconut milk curry soup with boiled rice noodles topped with crispy noodles) to panang mhoo (a panang curry with pork) to one dish that'll never go off the menu: gaeng tai pla, a Southern Thai vegetable curry made with fermented fish guts. A chalkboard message says: "Immm means full or stuffed in Thai"—so come hungry.
Neighborhood: Uptown MAP

Sticky Rice
This colorful, bustling BYOB storefront focuses on the cuisine from Northern Thailand, where the influences of Burma and Laos meld together over sticky rice. While you'll find familiar soups, curries, and noodle dishes here, you're coming for the legit Northern Thai specialties like sai-ua (a house-made spicy pork sausage), Northern Thai larb (an intensely flavorful mix of ground pork and intestine, stir-fried with a blend of spices), and gang hung lay (a popular Burmese-style stewed pork and ginger-laden curry). New dishes pop up every couple of weeks (check the chalkboard for specials)—you're sure to become a regular.
Neighborhood: North Center MAP

Opart Thai House
With three locations in Chicago, this empire of traditional Thai restaurants is definitely popular. Diners keep coming back for their simple approach to classic dishes like aromatic and flavorful pad Thai, panang curry, and Thai custard—and everything can be made to your liking, from mild to extra spicy. Go for the restaurant’s most well-known dish, Tiger Cry (charbroiled beef served with a house-made hot sauce), whole fried red snapper, or roasted duck with sweet pineapple and tomatoes bathed in coconut milk and fiery red curry.
Neighborhood: Lincoln Square MAP South Loop MAP West Town MAP

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