With many of the same dishes tying every Thai menu together, it helps to look for the few distinguishing characteristics that set the best ones apart. Read on to learn about our 13 favorite Thai joints that do just that.
Chanpen Thai CuisineMultiple Locations
Chanpen Thai Cuisine can be intimidating for first-timers. The south Phoenix location seems small and uninviting. Once inside, though, you'll be met with friendly service that makes you feel like family. The authentic menu covers everything from salad and soups to rice dishes, pad Thai plates, and stir-fried options. The yellow curry is simple, flavorful, and filling, but our favorite part of Chanpen is that each table gets a selection of small jars filled with spicy mix-ins, each with its own distinct flavor, which really adds a kick to anything you choose from the menu.
Glai Baan2333 East Osborn Road
Bangkok native Pornsupak "Cat" Bunnag and partner Dan Robinson have turned Phoenix's Thai food scene on its ear with this lively midtown bistro. Glai Baan's small menu specializes in Thai street snacks and northeastern Thai specialties, including pork skewers, larb, noodle dishes, and kanom jeeb, or freshly steamed pork dumplings. Bunnag skillfully deploys staple ingredients like garlic, basil, and lime to create irresistible sauces and curries. With a refined take on Thai street food and harder-to-find regional specialties, Glai Baan represents a big step forward for Thai cooking in metro Phoenix.
Malee's Thai Bistro7131 East Main Street, Scottsdale
This Old Town Scottsdale spot has been dishing out Thai food to hungry patrons since 1987. Its clean, open, and bright bistro setting differentiates it from competitors. While the prices are a little higher than the typical Thai place, you're likely paying for the location, which is more upscale than other Thai joints on our list and housed in a 1921 building that has been many a restaurant over the years. Start with appetizers like Thai Toast, Siamese Kisses and Thai-style hot wings at Malee's, then move on to main dishes like the coco chili fish and drunken dragon noodles.
Nunthaporn's Thai Cuisine17 West Main Street, Mesa
Fresh and simple is the name of the game at Nunthaporn's Thai Cuisine, a downtown Mesa staple. Rather than relying on thick and overly sweet pre-made sauces, as some Thai places do, Nunthaporn's flavor comes from fresh, authentic ingredients prepared on the spot. The pad khing shows off bright, acidic flavors with ginger, garlic and onion and contrasts them with a more umami pallet by using soy bean and black fungus. The attention to balanced flavors shines through in each dish, creating a completely unique-to-the-Valley Thai dining experience.
Smile Thai Cuisine2107 South Rural Road, Tempe
Smile Thai Cuisine has tons of colorful dishes — Drunken Noodle, Massamun Curry, Pad See Eew, and Yum Woonsen — and it's also a big soup place, serving up Tom Yum (hot and sour soup), Tom Kha (coconut soup), Seafood Hot Pot, and Wonton Soup. There’s also Pho, Chow Mein, Pineapple Fried Rice, and Crying Tiger on the barbecue section of the menu. And Tempe residents are happy about those lunch specials.
Soi 4 Bangkok Eatery8787 North Scottsdale Road, #104, Scottsdale
If you're looking for all of the best parts of upscale dining combined with delicious Thai food, Soi 4 Bangkok Eatery is the place for you. This sleek-and-chic spot is north Scottsdale by way of Oakland, and it doesn't go for the simple, homey décor most spots on our list tend to adopt. Plus, with a full bar, you can get a craft cocktail while you munch on Kieow Tod, pork and shrimp dumplings pan-fried and served with a ginger soy dipping sauce. You'll pay a bit more for the classy digs, but the food and drinks are well worth the splurge.
Sala Thai RestaurantMultiple Locations
This little strip-mall Thai joint in north Phoenix is a true diamond in the rough. Bright, framed Thai fabrics line the walls, adding color to the restaurant alongside the big, comfy booths. Sala Thai Restaurant touts traditional Thai flavors like kiffir lime, tamarind and lemon grass. The delicious roasted duck entrée is full of hearty chunks of sliced roasted duck meat sided with stir-fried mixed veggies and rice. Sala Thai also has a Peoria location for westsiders looking to get their Thai fix.
Thai BasilMultiple Locations
Although Thai Basil has many different locations to choose from around the Valley, the Tempe incarnation off University Drive and Farmer Avenue downtown is our favorite. Fast and friendly service makes it an ideal spot to grab lunch on a break between classes or from work. When we go, the silver noodle soup is our go-to dish; the light, flavorful broth with rice noodles and veggies is enough to fill us up without slowing us down. The papaya salad features a delicious citrusy dressing and shrimp, and is a great option for calorie-counters. Bonus: You’re welcome to bring your carry-out next door to Taste of Tops to pair dinner with a craft beer.
Thai Long-An4447 North Seventh Avenue
This petite restaurant and take-out counter offers authentic Thai cuisine in the form of Thai egg rolls, lemon grass soup, and spicy tofu salad. For you noodle fiends, Thai Long-An lists Drunken Noodles and Pad Thai as well as entrees like Pad Woon Sen. Curries include the usual red, green, and yellow, plus mussamun, Pa-Naeng, and duck. Lunch specials reign supreme here, and there are a few beer and wine options.
Wild Thaiger2631 North Central Avenue
The patio is the way to go at Wild Thaiger, at least when the weather is temperate. It's nice to watch the trains pass down Central Avenue while sipping on a sweet and creamy Thai tea — and you're going to need that tea to soothe the burns from the explosively spicy Temple of Fire fried rice dish. Packed with chiles and chicken, the dish is tasty enough on its own. However, you can (and should) add on a fried egg; they're perfectly crispy on the outside but with ooey gooey yolk — definitely one of the most finest fried eggs in town.
Krua Thai Cuisine1510 East Bell Road, Suite A100
This neighborhood Thai joint is frequented by regulars due to the friendly service and cozy, intimate atmosphere. Even if you weren't raised on Thai cooking, dishes like the fried fish filets will seem like a familiar comfort food, and the added Thai flavor kick from the chiles and jalapeños has something for more grown-up taste buds. At Krua Thai Cuisine, choose from rice and noodle dishes, or specialties like Thai BBQ Chicken and Stir-Fried Eggplant. Finish it off with a sweet-sticky rice or Thai custard for dessert, and you've got a meal that feels a little like home and a lot like an adventure.
Yupha's Thai Kitchen1805 East Elliot Road, #115, Tempe
Yupha's Thai Kitchen has been one of our favorite spots to grab dinner for years (and is the owner of plenty of Best of Phoenix awards to back it up). Located off McClintock Drive and Elliot Road in south Tempe, Yupha's is set up next to the Pollack Tempe Cinemas dollar theater, making for an easy (and cheap) dinner-and-a-movie night. The Lad Na isn't much to look at, but this stick-to-your-ribs flat noodle dish, which comes covered in gravy and your choice of meat, is perfect for chilly desert winter nights.
Thai E-San616 West Indian School Road
Named for the Esan (Isan) region of Thailand, Thai E-San in the Melrose District hits hard with a simple menu of traditional and curry dishes. The coconut-based curry is nearly addictive, and the lunch special puts others in town to shame, given the amount of food plated in front of you (those crunchy fried wonton chips, so help us). For dessert, choose from coconut ice cream or sticky rice with mango. The dining area itself features hand-picked décor from the owners, who are also ready to make recommendations off their menu.
Editor's note: This story was originally published on November 25, 2013. It was updated on February 22, 2020.