After a long workday, when we can't bring ourselves to cook, we always rely on one go-to favorite: Thai food. And thanks to Chicago's cultural melting pot of a culinary scene, there is a bevy of spots where you can satisfy your craving for Pad Kra Prow — minus the labor. We narrowed it down to the 13 best spots where east meets the Midwest, from elegant and refined to budget BYOBs.
A friendly, neighborhood-style spot in Lincoln Square, Aroy has a BYOB policy and a reputation for whipping up some of the most authentic Thai food in town. And, if you have a penchant for basil, you’re in luck: Specialty dishes include basil leaves with sautéed meat and peppers and basil suck. We’re also hooked on the tropical-tasting pineapple fried rice (total guilty pleasure), served with egg and roasted cashew nuts.
Aroy Thai, 4656 North Damen Avenue (at West Leland Avenue); 773-275-8360.
One word: authentic — so much so that you can even get, um, bugs or intestines. But don't let the traditional northern Thai menu turn you off. There is still a bevy of options on the gigantic menu suitable for more western tastes. Warm up with a steaming bowl of soup — there are just over 20 varieties to choose from — and consider starting your meal with one of the 30 apps, like the grilled seafood with spicy lime sauce. The salad and noodle lists are just as impressive (27 total and 17, respectively), and of course, there isn't a shortage of stir-fried preparations, like the basil chicken over rice served with a fried egg. Prices are reasonable, and the space is as charming as the service. The staff does a great job of helping customers navigate the menu, too, so ask away!
Sticky Rice, 4018 North Western Avenue (between Cuyler Avenue and Irving Park Road); 773-588-0133.
Panang Noodles & Rice
If you live in River North (or the nearby Gold Coast), then you know that BYOB establishments are few and far between. But fear not, Near Northers. Inexpensive (and tasty) food does actually exist in this part of the grid. The space is pristine, the service friendly, and given the name of this joint, you can’t go wrong with the golden, drunken, or (obviously) pad-Thai varieties of noodles.
Panang Noodles & Rice, 800 North Clark Street (between Chestnut Street and Chicago Avenue); 312-573-9999.
Andy’s Thai Kitchen
Thai-enthusiasts have been flocking here ever since he, well, chef Andy recently left Tac Quick (see below) to open this Lakeview eatery. While Yelpers will debate the eats between the two, menu staples like the grilled squid continue to rise to the top. Bottom line: If you loved Tac Quick, give this newbie a try.
Andy’s Thai Kitchen, 946 West Wellington Avenue (between Wilton and Sheffield avenues); 773-549-7821.
Tac Quick Thai Kitchen
How could you not be intrigued by an unassuming, neighborhood-style spot that has a “Secret Menu?” The offerings on said menu may not be uber-myserious (unless you find something inscrutable about marinated pork) but they’re definitely authentic. Try the kai tod, a deep-fried, marinated half chicken with a special Thai sauce, and the suki, a combo of glass noodles, meat, veggies, and spicy red-chili broth. On the regular menu, more familiar (though perhaps not as, well, Thai) items include crispy calamari with a spicy-sweet sauce. Bonus points: This spot is BYOB.
Tac Quick Thai Kitchen, 3930 North Sheridan Road (at Irving Park Road); 773- 327-5253.
Mee Dee Café
This pint-size Ravenswood spot piles on the cuteness with cartoon farm animals doodled on the walls. Though it’s a popular spot for takeout, its twee dining room is a fun, totally casual place to grab a bite — and, it’s BYOB. Along with the traditional roster of Thai-food faves, Mee Dee has fun specialties like the Sunny Sunny, a dish of fried quail eggs sprinkled with Asian soy sauce. Make sure to BYO sweet tooth, too — this spot serves fun desserts including mochi ice cream, Thai-style cupcakes, and sweet-sticky rice stuffed with bananas.
Mee Dee Café, 4805 North Damen Avenue (at Lawrence Avenue); 773-989-4444.
Photos: Courtesy of Opart Thai, Aroy Thai, Sticky Rice, Penang
Who says Thai food is best eaten in sweatpants? Sometimes, we want a little panache with our Panang Beef Curry. And that’s when we head to Arun’s. Decked with gorgeous Thai paintings and silks, the high-end spot specializes in chef- designed tasting menus. Bites change seasonally and may include sea scallops with kabocha-chili sauce; Siamese noodles with tamarind sauce; and a ginger- baked pear served with lychee sorbet. Need more convincing? Wolfgang Puck himself once said: “Arun’s is probably the best Thai restaurant in America.”
Arun’s Thai, 4156 North Kedzie Avenue (at Berteau Avenue); 773-539-1909.
Star of Siam
We’re going to get to the food (it’s delish), but first, we have to mention the seating at this spacious River North spot. You can opt for a traditional table, but we flock to the center section that’s filled with floor pillows. If you ask us, having a tasty meal pillow-top is the next best thing to breakfast in bed. As for those nibbles, our top pick here is the awesomely flavorful Tom Yum soup. There are also plenty of above-par vegetarian dishes, like the spicy stir-fried eggplant spruced up with basil leaves, bell peppers, and black bean sauce.
Star of Siam, 11 East Illinois Street (at State Street); 312-670-0100.
Unfussy, friendly, and with no frills in sight, this Lincoln Square restaurant does have one awesome perk: It’s BYOB. Pick your poison and pour a bottle, then take a peek at the can’t-go-wrong menu. We’d take the Thai boat noodle soup — a hearty stew of broccoli, bean sprouts, and beef broth — on any chilly Chi-town day. And since the weather is (finally) getting warm, we’re heading back in soon to try springy treats like the papaya-crab salad and the red bean ice cream.
Spoon Thai, 4608 North Western Avenue (at Wilson Avenue); 773-769-1173.
Many have been obsessed with this mother/daughter operation (guilty as charged!) ever since it opened up five years ago. The menu is eclectic (read: even non-Thai lovers will find something here), the space is cozy, and well, you just can’t beat those inexpensive lunch specials. But despite all of that, go for the curries galore and tapas-style bites like the Thai-style grilled shrimp or the Saigon rolls if you want a more all-inclusive (and robust) dining experience.
Thalia Spice, 833 West Chicago Avenue (at Halsted); 312-226-6020.
This mini-chain has provided all kinds of snacks for our HBO watch-a-thons, but it’s also one of our go-to restaurants for a quick dinner out. We love the homey — and, of course, aromatic — digs of the North Avenue location, which has paprika- colored walls and lightening-fast service. The menu covers all the typical Thai food you crave (Pad Thai, check). But since nothing costs more than $10, we suggest thinking outside the takeout box and tasting something new. The duck basil, made with a fresh-tasting basil sauce, bamboo shoots, and sautéed veggies, is an awesome pick.
Thai Aroma, 417 West North Avenue (at Hudson Avenue); 773-404-7777.
Opart Thai House
Two words: Tiger Cry. The specialty dish at this popular spot is the stuff our Thai-food cravings are made of (and, it has a pretty fun name to boot). The dish, a perfectly cooked beef skewer served with some tasty hot sauce, is simple perfection. And if you’re not into beef, we recommend anything else (seriously, the menu here is that good). Set aside some free time — and splurge calories — to sample your way through several dishes at this knockout spot, which also serves up the best Pad See-Ew we’ve ever wolfed down.
Opart Thai House, 4658 North Western Avenue (at Lawrence Avenue); 773-989- 8517.
Amarind’s Thai Restaurant
We never quite grew out of our princess phase, so we have a soft spot for this castle-style restaurant in Oak Park. (Believe us, you’ll recognize it right away.) Fit-for-royalty bites include chive dumplings with an addictive chili-soy sauce; Thai-style crepes stuffed with shrimp, tofu, coconut, peanuts, and chili-cilantro sauce; and the spicy beef panang curry. This spot is easy on the wallet, too, with the priciest items on the menu cashing in at about $15.
Amarind’s Thai Restaurant, 6822 West North Avenue (at North Oak Park Avenue); 773-889-9999.
Photos: Courtesy of Arun’s, Star of Siam, Spoon Thai, Thalia Spice