Hearty proteins and fish sauce. Rice, coconut, and mango. A million chilies thrown into the pot. Thai food is all about freshness, balanced flavors, and—sometimes—serious heat. Here are some of our favorite Thai restaurants in Houston, whether we're talking about intense regionality or exciting street food.
Located inside the food court at Hong Kong City Mall, Anna Thai Food is an authentic, family-run Thai restaurant that comes highly recommended by local Thai chefs. It's one of the most authentic Thai restaurants in Houston, and its pad kra pow, pad kee mao, and tom kha gai absolutely cannot be missed. Although it's packed during the lunch hours, one of the best times to enjoy the restaurant is in the evening when, if you're lucky, you might get the chance to enjoy one 0f the lively karaoke sessions that are known to happen in the common area of the food court. Anna Thai Food's stall also features a mini market that comes stocked with essentials like Thai seasonings, snacks, and beverages.
Over in the Heights area, the heat gets serious at this super chill half-market, half-eating establishment run by Chomsy Saysane, who previously operated Thai Choice at Westheimer and Wilcrest. Pick "raging volcano" for some of the most absurd heat levels you've ever sampled, best shown in the fresh and crispy papaya salad. Tiger Cry (marinated and grilled rib eye with rice) and fried rice with nam (pork sausage) are among the most comforting dishes you'll find in a Thai spot.
Joyful, bright, and located smack in the middle of the Heights, Kin Dee is Lukkaew Srasrisuwan and Miranda Loetkhamfu's love letter to regional Thai cuisine. They have both spicier Northern- and sweeter Southern-style curry, khao soi with deep-fried noodles, and pad Thai packed in an omelet, the way it's done back home. Kin Dee is a great place to step away from Americanized chicken pad Thai and ease into the pure variety of this exciting cuisine.
Also half-market and half-dining room by the Norhill area, Street Food is homey and often bustling. Squeeze into a two-top to share any number of authentic Northeastern Thai and Lao dishes like kor moo yang—pork neck with chili sauce—and yum nam khao tod—pork sausage and fried rice balls in chili dressing. There are five kinds of papaya salad, because you might want it Thai style, or Lao style, or with sour mustard, or maybe with noodles and pork. The attention to detail and authenticity is a hallmark of this fantastic haunt.
Take my word for it: this is the real deal. Benchawan Painter and husband, Graham, opened Street to Kitchen during the summer of 2020, doing delivery and takeout through the height of the COVID-19 pandemic (they did insanely good fried chicken early on). They've since opened their small, East End BYOB dining room in a former taqueria, and you'll want to go to get the freshest of the fresh. The larb is a must, combining flavorful pork with big chili heat. Painter makes everything from the curries to the fish sauce. The smells are addictive. The tastes are terrific. Painter is a star in the making.
Owned by Bangkok native Thai Changthong and James Beard Award and Top Chef winner Paul Qui, Thai Kun got its start in Austin before making its way to the food hall at POST Houston late last year. The original Austin location of the restaurant was named one of Bon Appetit's best new restaurants in America in 2014, and after a visit to its Houston digs, it's easy to see why. The restaurant specializes in authentic Thai street food featuring authentic Thai ingredients, ingredients Chef Thai tells Houstonia he spares no cost in acquiring. Standout dishes on Thai Kun's menu include the waterfall pork with pork jowl, tomatoes, mint, onion, tiger cry sauce, and sticky rice; the beef panang curry served with jasmine rice, fried egg, and Thai basil (the slow-cooked meat in this curry is so tender the dish is akin to a beef rendang); and the crab fried rice.
Though it's been around for more than 15 years, Vieng Thai still feels like a secret to those outside Spring Branch. Simply put, you'll find both familiar dishes (colorful curries, pad Thai, and drunken noodles) and more adventurous fare like the nostril-tickling pad sar-tor and nam prik kapi, a chili-packed paste with steamed vegetables.