Boston’s Thai Champions

Gold Medal: Brown Sugar Cafe
1033 Commonwealth Avenue
Neighborhood: Fenway
Boston, MA 02215
Phone 617-787-4242
Lunch: Mon-Fri 11:00am – 3:00pm
Sat-Sun 12:00pm – 3:00pm
Dinner: Sun-Thu 3:00pm – 10:00pm
Fri-Sat 3:00pm – 11:00pm
http://www.brownsugarcafe.com

Located in Allston, right by Super 88 (with an Asian food court full of deliciousness.we’ll dive into that another time), Brown Sugar has consistently been a part of Best of Boston, serving up some of Boston’s finest Thai cuisine. Full of punchy flavors and fresh ingredients, Brown Sugar is sure to live up to even the most discerning of foodies.

The menu is vast and can be intimidating upon first glance. Dozens of dishes – every flavor combination you can imagine. You want curry? Take your pick from Red, Green, Yellow, Masaman and Panang. Then pick your meat – anything from chicken, pork, beef, tofu, vegetarian ham (?), shrimp or duck. They don’t kid around when it comes to curry.

One thing I usually do when I go to a new restaurant is ask for recommendations from the server. I figure, hey, I don’t want to spend massive amounts of time navigating the extensive menu just to choose the wrong dish! Now, I know what devotees of Anthony Bourdain’s “Kitchen Confidential” are going to say – “Don’t ask the waiter! He’ll just pawn off whatever the kitchen wants to get rid of that night as the restaurant’s special dish!” While there may be some truth to that, I’ll take my chances.

Glad I did. Our server’s suggestions were the “Brown Sugar Mango Curry,” “Brown Sugar Duck,” and the “Drunken Noodle.”

The Mango Curry is a house specialty that combines a Thai favorite- yellow curry, with the surprising sweetness of ripened mangoes. The mangoes add a new complexity to the traditional dish of yellow curry with tomatoes, onions, squash and bell peppers, resulting in the perfect salty-sweet taste.

The Brown Sugar Duck is another favorite, crispy skinned with a sweet and tangy sauce. The duck was moist and fatty – as all good duck dishes are, and fresh vegetables on the side give some relief to its richness.

Finally, the Drunken Noodle was…spicy. Flat rice noodles with onions, green beans, basil and hot peppers with your choice of meat. Did I mention the hot peppers? This dish packs a punch – the flavors are strong and hot – leaving that all too familiar tingly feeling on your tongue. Isn’t it amazing how we keep going back for more even when it’s burning our tongue? It’s cuz the spiciness is what makes the dish zing. One tip I learned from “Food Detectives” – water won’t help quench the heat, and beer and soda just spread the fire around your mouth. Milk is the best weapon, but I bet you guys already knew that.

Whew – good thing I had my Thai Iced Coffee – full of sweet condensed milk. Always a must have with any Thai meal.

Brown Sugar is a great place to take a date, go on a “man date” (as some of our friends pointed out), or even for a birthday dinner. If it’s your special day – guess what – the lights dim, music starts blaring, and the whole restaurant stops to sing just for you. Just the perfect amount of embarrassment necessary for any memorable birthday. What more can a student ask for?

Just keep in mind – the restaurant gets very busy, so reservations are necessary for larger parties.

Silver Medal: Chilli Duck
829 Boylston Street (between Fairfield and Gloucester Streets)
Neighborhood: Back Bay
Boston, MA 02116
Phone: (617) 236-5208
Hours: Mon-Sun 11:30 a.m. 11:00 p.m.

Chilli Duck has long been a Back Bay staple bringing dependable, tasty Thai to the city’s most shoppable neighborhood. Just a hop away from Newbury Street, Chilli Duck’s location is second only to its expansive menu of Thai staples.

Behind its unimpressive, garden level exterior, the inside of Chilli Duck is appropriately kitschy with multi-colored twinkle lights, brightly colored walls, booths, and hanging. But the service has generally been as warm as the decor which is nice to find in the middle of the bustling city.

Despite its seemingly misspelled name, Chilli Duck hits the spot every time: classic dishes like Tom Yum soup, assorted delicious curries, and pad-se-iew. And for the more adventurous, there are surprising twists like Lime Shrimp Salad, Crabmeat fried rice and even several soft shell crab specials (with curry, scallion, and eggs or chili- your call). Worth noting is also the restaurant’s namesake duck dishes: available in Tamarind, Chilli, and Crispy varieties, among others.

I will now devote an entire paragraph to the star of the menu, in this editor’s humble opinion: the Crazy Rolls. The menu describes this gem of an appetizer as: “shrimp, lettuce, carrots, bean sprouts, basil leaves and vermicelli rolled up in soft spring roll skin then fried in tempura style, served with a brown peanut sauce”. This dish is really a magical combination of textures, fresh ingredients, and rich flavors. It’s essentially a twist on the traditional Vietnamese spring roll, except with a more satisfying rice noodle wrapper and a peanut sauce that packs a tangy punch. This is an appetizer that is begging to replace your entree and brings me back to Chilli Duck time and time again.

Bronze Medal: House of Siam
542 Columbus Avenue (Cross: Worcester Street)
Neighborhood: South End
Boston, MA 02118
(617) 267-1755

House of Siam is a time-tested institution in the South End- a favored takeout for hardworking yuppies in the trendy neighborhood and trusty delivery when you need it most.

The loyal devotees to House of Siam are many- and for good reason. In its unassuming yet charming brownstone location on Columbus, this restaurant serves up delicious Thai food that never fails to comfort either in the freezing Boston winter or the sweltering summer.

Of course, H o’ S features the basics you’ll look for (pad thai for your unadventurous Thai diners and other familiar dishes) but also some specialties such as the spicy and perfectly stewed vegetarian Eggplant Delight and spicy Panang Duck.

So when you find yourself yearning for an Asian bite, take a trip into the truly delightful South End, enjoy the cobblestone streets and pop into House of Siam for a casually comforting meal.