When it comes to Thai food, we are severely spoiled here in Seattle. From downtown to the Sea-Tac airport, you are never far from solid Thai. Inevitably though, I am often asked "what’s the best Thai food in Seattle?". Given that the ambience and variety of cuisine varies broadly amongst the possible contenders, I have a hard time choosing just one. Thai Tom would be on my candidate list though, as it is among the most distinctive Thai restaurants in the area.
Walking by it looks like another hole-in-the-wall ghetto quick-eat on "The Ave" in the center of the U-District (for some reason University Way is known as The Ave; I still don’t get it). Inside it is the Thai version of the movie Cocktail. On Wednesdays and Saturdays you’ll get to witness Tom gracefully manipulating 7 burners simultaneously. Tom and his off-night backup (known as "chef") are the centerpiece of this operation. And the best seats in the house are at the bar in full view of the inferno.
During the year, the line snakes out the door, and the wait can be over an hour for a table (and another 45min or so for your food). In those cases, I’ll call ahead for takeout — the time it takes for me to get to the U-District from work is just about right. In the summer however (off season for UW), you can regularly get a seat in less than 15 minutes. It’s been a few months since we’d been to Thai Tom, so we ordered two favorites. #10 (Japanese Eggplant), and #14 (Yellow Curry). The Yellow Curry at Thai Tom is unlike any other I’ve had, with no potatoes to be found.
The Japanese Eggplant is mixed with ginger and chicken to create what is possibly my favorite dish on the menu.
Speaking of favorite dishes, what is the best dish at Thai Tom? There is only one way to find out. I think it’s time for July Madness: a "Thai Tom Tournament". I’ve convinced LL to join me, and for posterity I’ll record the full range of choices on the menu (decoded from "#1"-"#16") in the faceoff below. A full one half of the menu will be virgin territory for me. Check back for updates as we make our way through the ~15 meals necessary to decide on an ultimate winner. Round 1 was tough (as we didn’t plan in advance and so began with two top seeds), but the edge went to #10.
UPDATE (7/14/2006): While #7 (Sweet and Sour Chicken) was a tasty surprise, it wasn’t enough to best #16 (Panang Curry)
UPDATE (7/23/2006): #5 (Spicy Broccoli) has a nice taste of garlic, but #12 (their take on Pad See Iw) took this match.
UPDATE (8/13/2006): #4 (Thai Sauce Chicken) handily disposed of #13 (Poor Man’s Noodles), which was good for a few bites, but then a little boring overall.
UPDATE (10/22/2006): #6 was a decent mix of fresh vegetables and basil flavor, but I’m a sucker for garlic, and #9 (Garlic Pepper Chicken) was a runaway winner on flavor.
UPDATE (11/20/2006): Today was supposed to be #2 vs. #11, but they were out of wide rice noodles! We had to perform a quick swap of #3 for #2 (chart updated). This was the closest match since our opening meal, but the nod went to #3 (Cashew Chicken). I can still heartily endorse #11, a surprise contender of awesome peanut sauce atop vegetables and chicken.
UPDATE (12/07/2006): Again out of wide rice noodles, so another swap had #1 (Pad Thai) vs. #8 (Garlic Beansprouts). #8 is by far the worst dish at Thai Tom’s. Unless you adore beansprouts, stay away. I like bean sprouts well enough, but couldn’t eat more than a few bites. So #1 cruises to round 2 with a lucky draw. Thai Tom’s pad thai is quality, though I’m not much of a pad thai fan in general, and I forsee a round 2 exit for pad thai since it will be up against the fabulous #3…
UPDATE (01/13/2007): Went out in the snow to finish up the 1st round today 🙂 Wide rice noodles were in stock, so we were finally able to order #2 (their version of Pad Kee Mao). It was really really good, but I just couldn’t get enough of the peanut sauce in #15, the winner of this final match in round 1.
UPDATE (03/11/2007): Round 2 began with an upset of top-seeded #10, with Swimming Rama coming up tops.
UPDATE (04/11/2007): After a break for Passover, Panang Curry handly overran #4 (Thai Sauce Chicken).
UPDATE (04/17/2007): Cashew Chicken cruised to an easy win over the popular, but less exciting, Pad Thai.
UPDATE (04/24/2007): Completing round 2 was a close match between #9 and #12. At the end the garlic was king for Garlic Pepper Chicken.
UPDATE (05/02/2007): They were out of Panang Curry (next time I’m instituting a forfeit rule!). So it was a back-to-back Garlic Pepper Chicken appearance, but it was no match for Cashew Chicken.
UPDATE (05/12/2007): In the closest match yet, Panang Curry squeaked by Swimming Rama (probably #1 and #2 seeds in next year’s match :))
UPDATE (06/20/2007): The winner of the 2006-07 Thai Tom crown is….Panang Curry!
4543 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105-4510
Daily: 12:00AM-9:00PM (Lunch and Dinner)