Seattle has approximately ten million Thai places. Some are very fine with wood paneling and decorative elements. Others are shoebox restaurants overflowing with hungry customers. Still others have food so good it doesn’t matter about their decorations; in fact, they’ve forgotten them altogether save the pictures of the king and queen of Thailand on the wall. Let’s look at two of Seattle’s best Thai restaurants:
Buddha Ruksa. I went to Buddha Ruksa in West Seattle for the first time on Friday night. I’ve heard quite often that it’s Seattle’s best Thai restaurant, so it had a big reputation. The restaurant is housed in a small green building right after you cross the West Seattle bridge. The inside of the restaurant is almost all wood paneling with tasteful mood lighting that makes it seem more like a swanky bar than a restaurant.
I started off with a delicious cucumber and soda drink, but, like almost every Asian restaurant I’ve patronized in this city, it was one of the only not-too-sweet varieties that was buried underneath Mai Tai’s and sugary cosmopolitans or coy concoctions like “Phuket Phun” or the like. The food, however, lived up to the hype. We started with an appetizer called Bags of Gold, which the restaurant interpreted literally. They fried the shrimp and chicken filling inside a thin and crispy shell tied with an edible string. The result was a thin and crispy top for dipping.
We also ordered the pad Thai with wontons and the garlic fried chicken. The first dish substituted small, fried wontons and extra bean sprouts for noodles. The result was a lighter, less-filling version of traditional pad Thai. People call the second dish that we ordered “crack chicken” because it’s so addictive. It’s true. Even though I finished my leftovers yesterday, I want more. The chicken is breaded just enough for the chicken to be crunchy, but not filling. The garlic doesn’t overpower the sauce, which is thick enough to coat the chicken but not sop all over the plate. The brown rice I ordered was full and well-cooked and a perfect compliment. I’m probably already addicted to Buddha Ruksa, especially the particularly friendly service of the hostess and wait staff.
Thai Tom. Thai Tom in the university district is almost the exact opposite of Buddha Ruksa in ambiance and service, but just as delicious in food. Thai Tom feels almost like an assembly line. You go into the tiny shop—well, if you can get in the tiny shop; most people wait outside on the sidewalk in front—and place your order with a friendly waitress. If you want to eat inside, there’s usually quite a wait because of limited number of tables. Most people seem to take their orders to go, rather than wait for a tiny table. Some wait at the bar where you can watch the cooks fry up your order in giant woks.
The ambiance inside the restaurant isn’t much, but it probably feels more like a bustling Thai city than anything else with the wait staff and customers bumbling into each other to serve food or use the bathrooms. Still, I really like this quick-paced feel and the low slung wooden tables on the floor. The food is always really excellent and well-thought out. I always order the Tom Kha Gai soup, a chicken and coconut milk-based soup with kalanga mushrooms and lemongrass. The pad Thai here is some of the best I’ve ever tasted and the restaurant kindly adds a side of white rice with their spicier-than-average variety.