14 Best Thai Restaurants In NYC, Ranked

Thanks to a campaign of "gastrodiplomacy" funded by the Thai government to increase tourism revenue, Thai food has become a ubiquitous part of the American restaurant scene. While the Thai-American population is largely concentrated in Los Angeles, you can still find some of the best Thai restaurants in America in New York City, where the Thai food offerings range from the upscale contemporary to the down-to-earth and traditional. From the popular Isan cuisine of Thailand's northeast to the curries and other spicy dishes of Thailand's central and southern regions, there are plenty of options for international Thai cuisine.

Much of NYC's best Thai food can be found along the same three-block stretch of Woodside Avenue in Elmhurst, Queens. Home to the majority of NYC's Thai immigrant community, this street was recently renamed "Little Thailand Way" in recognition. If you know where to look, there's more incredible Thai food to be found in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and other parts of the city.

14. Ayada Thai

Duangja "Kitty" Thammasat used to own a small store in Elmhurst, Queens, where she sold prepared food alongside Thai groceries. The positive reception that her homemade dishes received inspired her to open Ayada — named after her daughter — in 2008. The restaurant has been a standout among the many Thai eateries in Woodside and Elmhurst ever since and was awarded the Michelin Guide Recommended from 2012 to 2018. While the original Ayada in Queens is still in business, a new location opened in Manhattan's Chelsea Market in 2019.

Compared with the Chelsea Market location, Ayada in Queens has an extensive menu with more customization (such as your choice of protein), and family-style options for large parties. However, the Chelsea Market location's menu features standout dishes like ribeye steak with spicy prik king stir-fry. The crispy ground catfish salad, bursting with flavor and contrasting textures from mango, onion, cilantro, lime and fried fish, is another menu highlight.

13. Fish Cheeks

When dining at Fish Cheeks, naturally, you'll want to order fish — and you'll especially want to order a whole fish. Try the coconut crab curry, the grilled mackerel in a salty/sweet caramel fish sauce glaze, or the whole fried market fish; served with pineapple, ginger, fragrant Thai herbs, and crunchy cashews in a pickled garlic dressing. 

Not a fan of fish or seafood in general? Although fish is this restaurant's specialty, there are also plenty of other options on the menu available for landlubbers to enjoy; like crispy pork belly, khua kling, a stir-fried short rib dish, as well as vegan options. Diners should be aware that most of Fish Cheeks' dishes are served family-style, and the menu encourages sharing.

Opened in 2016 by brothers Chat and Ohm Suansilphong, and located on Bond Street in Lower Manhattan, Fish Cheeks serves contemporary Thai cuisine with a focus on family-style seafood.

12. LumLum

Popular Hell's Kitchen restaurant Pam Real Thai Food closed at the start of the pandemic, but a new addition to the city's Thai food landscape — LumLum — opened in the same location in 2022. Sisters and owners Sommy and Mo Hensawang named LumLum after a Northern Thai slang term for "delicious." The restaurant is based off of their family's restaurant in Thailand, with a relaxed ambience inspired by Thai and Hawaiian beaches.

LumLum stands out from other Thai restaurants not only for its tropical beach vibes, but its unique menu based on the owners' own regional family recipes. Must-try appetizers include the goong yang or grilled river prawns, an almost lobster-sized freshwater crustacean served split down the middle with a spicy lime dressing. The muk tom nam dum is another great option, as a fragrant, spicy seafood soup darkened with squid ink. "Crying tiger," an unusually-named dish consisting of ribeye steak with garlic fried rice and egg, is a house special.

11. Playground

Playground in Jackson Heights, Queens, is one of the few restaurants in NYC where you can (sometimes) find Thai insect delicacies such as ant eggs and silkworm pupae on the menu, although these are not always available. Even if they're not serving insects, there's plenty to enjoy at this small restaurant, which is focused on the cuisine of the Isan region in northeastern Thailand. Characterized by savory salads, grilled meats, and other simple preparations of fresh ingredients accompanied by sticky rice, Isan cuisine is the most popular regional cuisine within Thailand and is gaining international recognition thanks to restaurants like this one.

Choose from an assortment of Isan cuisine like grilled squid, sweet pork sausage, and mixed salads of herbs ("larb," or "laarb") or shredded papaya ("tom") with various meats — alongside Thai staples like curries and noodle dishes. The food at Playground tends to run spicy, so be careful when choosing from the five different levels of heat. 

Playground has a full bar and stays open until 11:45 p.m., making it a good choice for late-night dining. There are also private rooms for karaoke downstairs from the restaurant, one of the few karaoke options in the area.

10. Zaab Zaab

Zaab Zaab opened in 2022 along the same strip in Elmhurst as established restaurants like Ayada. However, Chef Aniwat Khotsopa is no newcomer to NYC's Thai restaurant scene, having previously spent 25 years working in one of the city's first Thai restaurants. 

Isan cuisine is the specialty here, and Zaab Zaab's signature dish is named for the Isan city of Udon Thani, Chef Khotsopa's hometown: Larb ped udon, a duck larb salad in which the fried duck liver and crispy skin are included along with minced duck meat, toasted rice powder, lime leaves, and fresh herbs.

Another highlight is the mieng pla pow, a charcoal-roasted, salt-crusted whole tilapia served with two different sauces and a heap of greens, including unique Thai herbs rarely seen in American restaurants. With these herbs and other ingredients, such as organ meats and housemade Isan-style fish sauce, Zaab Zaab strives to present the authentic flavors of Isan.

Zaab Zaab has two other locations besides the original Elmhurst one. There's a location in Williamsburg, as well as an outpost in the Market 57 food hall at Chelsea Piers, which features 16 vendors from around NYC hand-picked by the James Beard Foundation. Although the Market 57 location has a smaller menu, the duck larb is available there as well.

9. Thai Villa

Located on East 19th Street in Manhattan, Thai Villa is one of the most visually stunning restaurants on the list. The canopies and ornate carvings that decorate the walls and ceiling, suffused with soft golden light, will make you feel like you're dining in a palace; this is by design because this restaurant specializes in Thai royal court cuisine.

Thai Villa has a large menu with typical American Thai offerings like curries and pad thai, providing something for everyone. For a more unique dining experience, look under the Chef's Signature and Privileged Entrees sections. There you'll find lesser-known specialty dishes originally meant for the tables of Thai royalty: kha nom boung youen (a crispy egg crepe stuffed with beansprouts, peanuts, and mixed seafood), and yum ma-kua yao (grilled eggplant salad with shrimp, pork, and egg). 

Mieng kum is another highlight: A dish of bite-size leaf wraps made with the spicy herb betel, stuffed with a sweet/salty/savory mix of onion, dried shrimp and shredded coconut, topped with a palm sugar caramel sauce.

8. Ugly Baby

Chef Sirichai Sreparplarn opened Ugly Baby in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn in 2017. The menu features dishes drawn from different regions of Thailand and is subject to frequent change, with a new menu unveiled in August 2022 and revised in December, both updates posted to the restaurant's Instagram. 

You won't find the typical pad Thai and customizable curries here. Ugly Baby's most-current menu features dishes like loba, a mix of fried tofu and pig organ meats served over cucumber, and kang som, a sour curry soup with shrimp, served with crispy pieces of omelet made with the fragrant Thai herb cha-om. Ugly Baby's version of the beef and herb salad dish, nam tok, also includes tripe.

Thai food is known for its abundant use of chilies, and heat-averse diners should be aware that Ugly Baby describes itself as "aggressive Thai with spices." Previous versions of the menu have included dishes labeled as "brutally spicy," and even "stay-away spicy."

7. Thai Diner

"Fusion cuisine" is the byword at Thai Diner, where you'll find dishes that inventively blend classic American diner food with tropical Southeast Asian flavors. Try the Thai tea-flavored French toast topped with coconut flakes, the disco fries drowned in creamy coconut massaman curry sauce, or one of many Thai-inflected cocktails. Thai Diner's turkey and rice-stuffed cabbage rolls are flavored with galangal and makrut lime, while their version of larb (laab) is made with fried chicken rather than the more typical ground chicken.

Located on Mott Street in the Lower East Side, Thai Diner is operated by chefs Ann Redding and Matt Danzer — the team behind several other restaurants, including Uncle Boons, Uncle Boon's Sister, and Mr. Donahue's. Like any great diner, breakfast, which includes two different breakfast sandwiches, is served all day. The drinks menu also features some unique offerings like fortifying shots loaded with Thai medicinal herbs. 

6. THEP Thai Restaurant

Located on the Upper East Side, THEP is another restaurant with an especially beautiful interior. You can dine indoors or outdoors under covered canopies decorated with flowers, and the food is plated with elegance and style. THEP is named after the original Thai name of Bangkok (meaning "city of angels"), and is owned by the same team as Manhattan's V{IV} Thai Restaurant & Bar.

On the menu: crispy appetizers paired with flavorful dipping sauces abound, and the THEP platter of assorted spring rolls, crab rangoons, and dumplings is ideal for sharing. The menu features typical American Thai offerings, as well as Thai-inspired cocktails and seasonal mocktails. However, the specials stand out, with unique options like the lamb panang curry with mashed pumpkin and fried basil garnish, as well as a tea leaves salad. This dish, which appears inspired by Burmese laphet thoke, mixes citrusy fermented green tea leaves with scallion, chili lime dressing and crispy fried garlic.

5. Kitchen 79

Kitchen 79 in Jackson Heights, Queens is eclectic in a number of ways. The food itself is a mix of dishes from Thailand's northern and southern regions, thanks to the two chefs hailing from different regions of the country. Kitchen 79 is, in fact, one of the first restaurants in NYC to showcase southern Thai cuisine, and many of the dishes on its menu are hard to find at other Thai restaurants.

Kitchen 79 is known for its generous lunch special, which comes with several different appetizer options. The owner's recommended dish is pad Thai, which is also one of the restaurant's most-ordered dishes, but the regional curries and specials are where Kitchen 79 really shines. Try steamed whole fish, the mild, peanutty massaman curry, southern style had yai fried chicken, or gang phed ped yaang, a spicy red curry of duck and vegetables.

4. Khao Kang

In Thailand, fast-casual counter-serve eateries called "raan khao kang" serve combos of different specials over rice. Khao Kang in Elmhurst, Queens is named for these restaurants and operated in the same style; causing one reviewer to even describe it as "a small place with no ambiance to speak of." That being said, don't let that description put you off from enjoying Khao Kang's daily selection of around 10 dishes.

At Khao Khang, you can get a two or three-dish combo set with rice for about $15 (the three-dish combo is only 50 cents more than the two-dish.) The menu varies but mostly focuses on curries and soups. Options may include spicy vegetable and pork curry, tom kha gai (coconut chicken soup), stir-fried chicken livers, or breaded fish with eggplant. Khao Kang is cash-only and is also located on Little Thailand Way (Woodside Avenue), as are many of New York City's best Thai restaurants.

3. Som Tum Der

Ubiquitous in the food of Laos and Thailand, especially Isan (which borders Laos), som tum is a refreshingly sour papaya salad. This salad is made from shreds of green unripe papaya pounded in a large mortar and pestle, with a tangy-sweet sauce and various meat and vegetable add-ins. 

At Som Tum Der, you'll find eight different kinds of freshly-pounded som tum in which the papaya is mixed with ingredients like pork, mackerel, salted egg, pickled crab, long beans, or tiny pea eggplants. Larb, fiery curries, and crispy fried chicken round out the menu.

With locations in the East Village and in Red Hook, Brooklyn, Som Tum Der opened in 2013 and earned a Michelin star in 2016. Som Tum Der aims to present a fully-curated dining experience, with an eclectic playlist of background music provided by a Thai record label, and traditional items from Isan culture on display, such as sticky rice steaming baskets and fish traps.

2. Soothr

The name of the Michelin-recommended East Village restaurant Soothr is pronounced "sood," and means "recipe" in Thai. The owners of Soothr are friends who come from different regions of Thailand, and the menu features a diverse and eclectic mix of their family recipes and other regional dishes. Soothr is meant to recall the bustle of a Thai street food market, and some dishes — like the had yai fried chicken — are modified from Thai street food.

Soothr was originally conceived as a noodle bar and offers an extensive selection of noodle dishes. Try the noodles in soups made with coconut or pork blood, or simply served dry with a topping like crab or duck (the menu reminds you to mix the noodles for maximum enjoyment). Another menu standout is the "nine gems," nine signature cocktails named for precious stones, such as the Bussarakam or River's Topaz; made with Thai golden rum, bitters, and smoked spices.

1. SriPhaPhai

SriPhaPhai, named for founder Sriphaphai Tipmanee, is one of the oldest and most classic in the Woodside Avenue strip of Thai restaurants (alongside Zaab Zaab and Ayada), with a second location on Long Island in the town of Williston Park. The interior at the original Queens location was recently refurbished and expanded, but the food at SriPhaPhai has remained consistent since the restaurant began as a small Thai bakery in the 1990s. Some dishes on the menu, like pork leg over rice, and a coconut starch jelly dessert called khanom chan, are longtime staples.

The menu (cash only at the Queens location) is large and features Isan dishes like a delicate sponge of crispy catfish served alongside cashews and papaya salad. Unlike many American Thai restaurants, at SriPhaPhai, you don't get to swap whichever protein you want in a given dish, because each is served with the ingredients that best complement it. SriPhaPhai was one of the first restaurants to introduce NYC diners to previously unfamiliar Thai dishes and continues to uphold its standard of quality and authenticity.