Denver may have an abundance of Thai restaurants, but most of them serve food that's a far cry from what you'll actually find in that country, one of the best in the world for eating. If you know where to look though, you can find a handful of restaurants turning out wickedly hot curries, vibrant papaya salads, whole grilled fish and perfect sticky rice.
Here, in no particular order, are the city's five best Thai restaurants.
Dancing Noodle Thai Cuisine, 10841 South Crossroads, Parker You have to go south -- way south -- to find Dancing Noodle, a little joint buried in a strip mall in the heart of Parker. But if it's green curry you're after, it's totally worth it. Thick and creamy with just a hint of sweetness, it derives its rich flavor from onions and garlic and fiery red chiles.The top heat level, by the way, gives you an intense piquancy without overpowering every other element of the dish. Loaded up with zucchini, Thai eggplant, broccoli and firm cubes of tofu, chicken, beef, shrimp or squid and served over rice, the dish is a cut above most other greens in the city.
Thai Flavor, 1014 South Peoria Street, Aurora We've never had a single bad thing on the menu at Thai Flavor, a bubblegum-hued strip mall joint in the heart of Aurora that grows much of its own produce, and we delight in the kitchen's ability to turn out such items as whole, curry-slathered fish and perfect sticky rice with coconut and mango. What really makes this spot a standout, though, is the panang curry: creamy and caramel-colored, the first spoonful is pungent and peppery, laced with chile-infused heat checked by the natural sugar of the coconut milk, the savory bite of garlic and the tangy nip of a freshly squeezed lime. Swimming with tender strips of pork or chicken and dotted with scallions and basil, we can ladle it endlessly onto fluffy rice, slurping just the liquid when we're too full to eat more meat.
U.S. Thai, 5228 West 25th Avenue, Lakewood Located on a charming street in Edgewater, U.S. Thai is actually owned by a Laotian, which explains the northern Thai bent to the restaurant's menu. But the kitchen knows its way around noodles, green papaya salad and curry, balancing each dish with a spark (or raging forest fire) of chiles matched to the zing of lime and kiss of sweetness. The panang and green curries are particularly exceptional, and we always order the drunken noodles, too. Just be careful -- medium heat is enough to make you sweat profusely; Thai hot may make you want to rip your tongue out.
Thai Monkey Club, 102 South Broadway Not even Singha beer is going to quell the heat of the food at Thai Monkey Club, so best order a dairy-laden Thai iced tea up front. But even though you'll sweat through it, you'll be able to detect a lot more than just heat: in each dish, characteristic tart lime, sweet fish sauce and earthy peanuts manage to shine through. The deft hands of the cooks are most defty showcased in the spot's soups; both the tom kha and the tom yum are blissfully cleansing and tart, though the coconut milk in the former rounds out the edges a bit. They're good enough to drink, though you might want to add some sticky rice to fight the fire.
1. Thai Street Food Restaurant, 11650 Montview Boulevard, Aurora We knew Utumporn Killoran's cooking was special the first time we tried the Thai Street Food cart on the 16th Street Mall. But when she took her cooking inside once a week, setting up a small restaurant in the same building as her commissary kitchen and opening to the public on Saturdays, we got a glimpse of just how great she really is. Killoran comes from the Issan region of Thailand, and her expanded restaurant menu features dishes from that part of the country, many of which are spicy enough to blister your esophagus. We're dazzled by her curries, fervent for her noodle jelly salad and enamored of her unpretentious grilled pork belly. And that's what earned the restaurant Best Thai Restaurant in Best of Denver 2012.
Know of another great spot? Tell us about it below.
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