Thai Tom (Seattle, WA)


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.

Thai TomWalking 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.
Thai Tom

The Japanese Eggplant is mixed with ginger and chicken to create what is possibly my favorite dish on the menu.
Thai Tom

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.

Thai Tom Tournament

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!

Thai Tom
4543 University Way NE
Seattle, WA 98105-4510

Daily: 12:00AM-9:00PM (Lunch and Dinner)

22 thoughts on “Thai Tom (Seattle, WA)

  1. Kenny

    I’m updating this post as we progress. Marriage + honeymoon put a delay on the face-off. I have my suspicions though (so far #10 and #16 look like the top seeds remaining).

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  3. Glen Berry

    The bracket idea is f’ing awesome. I have been a rabid fan of Thai Thom for many a year now. I’m a little disappointed that Spicy Broccoli went out in the first round but I will defer to the decision of the judges. Some things can only be resolved through combat.

  4. patricia racz

    Kenny I don’t know what happened but my BF went there after all the hype from everyone. We got orders (I ordered the swimming rama, BF ordered spicy chicken to go). NP, the staff was great yadda yadda. When we got home to eat was a whole new galaxy. Neither of use could eat the shit. Too sweet like they cooked everything in syrup, LOTS of syrup, then the after taste was plain salt, there was no taste of the actual dish, nada!! We both are no newbies to Thai food so perhaps maybe that they were having a “bad wok day”? I hear so much in reviews that people prefer to like when “Tom is actually “up to bat at the wok”, but shouldn’t it be wise for Tom to teach the others to cook decent edible food upon his adsents? As soon as the old taste buds recover I will give it another chance.

  5. Kenny

    Patricia, unfortunately I too have had this experience at Thai Tom recently. They have two chefs: A and George. You got A unfortunately. You now need to call Thai Tom in advance and ask if George is cooking. Otherwise don’t go. You should try Jamjuree on 15th — consistently tasty.

  6. patricia racz

    Thanks for the tip, I will call in advance and give it another whirl When George is there. I could not bear to waste all that food so the Spicey chicken I gave to a friend who is a human garbage can and kept the Swimming rama and after adding water, lime, sherry and basil to it, it was edible. I will check out Jamjuree soon. Another Thai place that is right up the street where BF and I live (in the U Dist) is a place called The Little Thai, that place was very impressive. The wide noodles to die for. They serve beer and wine which is a big plus as well. I have not seen any new reviews of your visits to restaurants latley. Do you have a “sign up” for this sight, I would love to join. Also I have a computer question for you that is pretty retarded but I am a retard when it comes to computers. I know this is the wrong thread to ask a question on computers do you have a site where I can go to to ask a computer question? Thanks.

    Patricia Racz

  7. Jenna

    I don’t think A cooks that bad. I ate at Thai Tom alot and I had both of their food ( A and George). I think A did pretty good. Sometime George burnt the food too. So,…

  8. Patricia

    Do I type in rss feed? Have you tried The Little Thai yet? It is located right next door (across the alley) from Taco del Mar on 42nd N.E. in the U Dist. Downstairs of that blue church. That is really good Thai food as well the, the peanut sauce is just right not too sweet and not too bitter, the prices are great and you get alot of food. Their wide noodles are outstanding as with their soups. The serves are very very nice, helpful and attentive. Plus they serve berer and wine lol.

  9. Mark

    Dude, I lived in Seattle 6 years back and was loving Thai Toms then. Great to hear the place is still putting out the best damn Thai outside of Thailand! The bracket idea is great although you can only assume an overall winner, not second or third, etc. place…

  10. Saigon

    I love that you did a thai dish competition! Brilliant! I’d love to do this with the Garlic or Mango Wala from Bengal Tiger vs. every other dish on their menu, although I already feel like the wala’s would win. Showdown between the two dishes perhaps?

    As for your query about where the name “The Ave” comes from, let me elucidate you.

    Originally University of Washington campus was located in downtown Seattle on University Street. Some time later, UW got a large plot of land (where it currently is located). A huge endeavor took place to relocate whole buildings as well as pieces of buildings. For example, if you go to the UW campus the original 4 pillars of the first building (or something significant like that) are standing in a amphitheater-like space. Anyway, UW was moved, but it was decided that it should still have a University street so they came up with “University Way Ave” since Seattle prefers North-South bound streets to be called Avenues, but just having “ave” vs “st” wasn’t enough to separate the two names. Why “The Ave” specifically became the nickname is beyond me (maybe because it’s the “Ave” and not the “Street?”) but it was created with the intention to lessen confusion between the two at UW and downtown.

  11. ron

    this place is a dirty dump, the staff is rude and could care less about you and your eating experience. Ever since Tom went into retirement the place has been going downhill and tonight, being made to move twice, was my last visit.

  12. SinDonor

    I heard some HORRIBLE news from a friend that Thai Tom has closed down!!!! WTF!!!! SAY IT AIN’T SO!!!!!

    Oh well, looks like it’s back to Bangkok for me! Sawadeekap!

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