Chabaa Thai Bistro
4371 Main St
Philadelphia, PA 19127
If you’re new to Thai cuisine, Manayunk’s Chabaa Thai is a great place to start. Each dish has a helpful description on the menu, and the waitstaff is extremely accommodating. You can order your meal as spicy or mild as you like. Inside, you’ll find a warm and inviting multi-level space. It’s obvious that the chefs are committed to excellence; Executive Chef Moon Krapugthong uses the best and freshest ingredients. Some standouts are the Crazy Noodles, which you can get with tofu, chicken, beef, shrimp or seafood ($13-$19), a dish consisting of stir-fried wide rice noodles, bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, broccoli, basil and Thai chili. Another great dish is the Panang Curry (also made with tofu, chicken, beef, shrimp or seafood; $13-$21), which is a mild, sweet curry with peas, bell peppers and onions slowly cooked in coconut milk and topped with chopped kaffir leaves. If you still have some room for desert, end your meal with Chabaa Thai’s homemade coconut ice cream ($6). It’s unlike any ice cream you’ve ever ordered. And FYI, Chabaa is BYOB.
31st and Ludlow Sts
Philadelphia, PA 19104
Cucina Zapata doesn’t necessarily sound like a Thai restaurant, and it’s not, really. For one, it’s a food truck, and not just any food truck; the vibrantly-graffitied truck in University City won People’s Choice at the 2011 Vendy Awards (kind of like the Academy Awards of food trucks). Cucina Zapata brilliantly fuses the lively, piquant tastes of Thai food with the earthy flavors of traditional Mexican fare, and serves them up in a fun and friendly way. Give the Tilapia Katsu Taco a try: crispy tilapia breaded in crushed Cap’n Crunch cereal, heaped with veggies and a spicy peanut sauce. At two for $6, these are a yummy bargain. The similarly-priced Beef Short Rib Tacos with avocado and cabbage slaw are another fan favorite. Add the sweet Thai iced tea ($2), and you’ve got a great lunch on the run. CZ opens at 11 a.m. and stays open until 5 p.m., or until the food runs out. (Follow Cucina Zapata on Twitter for up-to-the minute info: www.twitter.com/Cucina_Zapata.)
Circles Contemporary Asian Cuisine
1514 Tasker St
Philadelphia, PA 19145
Winning Philadelphia Magazine’s Best of Philly 2011, Circles has been a takeout favorite of locals for years. With its new dining room, the delectable Thai classics can be enjoyed hot out of the kitchen. The Tom Kha Soup, made with coconut milk, shallots, tomatoes, galangal, lemon grass and lime juice, is the perfect blend of spicy and sour ($3.95–$5.95). Circles’ regulars keep coming back for the curries; Penang Curry ($11.95) is a particular favorite as is the Tofu Corn Fritters ($6.95), which mixes tofu and corn in its house batter, fries it up and serves it with a lively citrus aioli. Circles’ lunch specials can’t be beat either. You get an entrée, soup, spring roll and dessert all for just $9.95. If you plan to have your Thai delights delivered, be sure to go to Circles’ website and use its extremely helpful map of delivery zones.
2624 Brown St
Philadelphia, PA 19130
Trio is a BYOB gem housed in an old row home just two blocks from the Art Museum. With two levels of dining, plus a third-floor private dining room that’s perfect for parties, Trio is deceptively roomy. When the weather is fair, you can dine on the second floor deck with an incredible view of the city. Open since 2006, Trio does the classics right and with the perfect amount of spice; Drunken Noodles are by far the most popular dish. Described as wok-seared wide fresh-made rice noodles with broccoli, Thai basil, chili, peppers and egg ($16-$17), patrons can’t get enough. The chef is happy to adjust the level of spiciness for you, so don’t try to be a tough guy. If, after drowning those noodles, you still want some dessert, then you’re in luck. Trio offers a changing array of its housemade sweets: Thai Tea Crème Brulee, Fresh Fruit Tart, Coconut Crepes with banana or mango and a luscious Warm Caramel Macadamia Tart with malted vanilla ice cream.
51 N 12th St
Philadelphia, PA 19107
If you’re wandering around the Reading Terminal Market and you notice a line around lunch time, you’re probably near Little Thai Market. Cheap, predictably tasty and always fresh, Little Thai draws crowds. The bargain of the century is the Salmon Curry; a huge slab of salmon over a mound of perfect sticky rice with crispy veggies and a sweet red curry sauce, all for $6.50. For a little under $6, you can get your fill of some excellent Pad Thai, too. It’s freshly made and the noodles are perfectly seasoned, with just the right amount of sweetness. Don’t worry about the line either; it moves fast. And while you’re waiting, you can browse Little Thai Market’s grocery selection. If you feel like trying to make Thai food at home, it has many of the authentic ingredients you’ll need, like lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, coconut milk and galangal.
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Trish Deitemyer is a freelance writer living in Philly. She covers Food & Drink and has been writing since 1986. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.