Passionate about Pad Thai: Korea’s Top 10 Thai Restaurants

Words by Birgit Rappold and shots by John Stoops

Perhaps Korean food’s spiciest rival: Thai.
10 introduces you to the best places to challenge your taste buds. 

If you are a spicy food lover like I am, you should be in heaven in Korea: Kimchi and Co. normally do a great job of satisfying your taste buds. But what about those times when you get tired of Korean cuisine, or just need a little change in how you spice up your life? Thai food is a great substitute as Thais share your passion for fiery food. With the difficulties of importing original Thai ingredients, it was quite an adventure to see how restaurants tried to create the authentic Thai experience.

10 Buddha’s Belly
An ideal location in the heart of Itaewon. After climbing up the small wooden steps to the second floor, you enter into a warm and inviting abode. Head for the round booths to your right as the couches at the windows can get uncomfortable after a while. The menu is full of typical Thai fare like satay, curries and phad thai. I had a tom yum gung (spicy sour prawn soup). It was tasty and pretty spicy, but too much soup and not enough gung. However, you’re in Itaewon with many options for Round 2.
02-796-9330, 119-7 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

9 Zen Hideaway
A charming atmosphere and a good intro to Thai food if you’re not yet a spicy food lover. The menu is a fusion of Thai, Italian and Japanese. Everyone will find something to please their palate. Mix spicy with sweet by trying their gaeng pet ped (red duck curry). The roasted shallots and sweet pineapple pieces will help to balance the spiciness of the red curry.
zenhideaway.com 02-3141-1461
408-3 Seogyo-dong, Mapo-gu, Seoul

8 Pattaya

Very tasty set dinners for the indecisive. The flavors are mouthwatering and the pad thai was almost perfect –just missing the lime. They do a remarkable gai pad preaw wan (sweet and sour chicken) with lots of veggies. It’s one of those tangy spicy dishes that keeps you craving more and more. The chefs are Thai, and you can taste it!
ipattaya.co.kr 02-793-4888
116-14 Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

7 Little Thai
The decor of this place is very Thai, providing a lovely atmosphere despite the hustle and bustle of the crowd. The food is pretty good, but not great. Their tom yam gung soup is rich and zesty with lots of fresh shrimp. The yum nua (beef salad) is a tasty fusion of Thai and Korean. On the other hand, the pad thai is too sweet and misses the balance of green lime. The set menus are good value.
littlethai.kr 02-318-1991
B1 Finance Center, 100-768 Taepyeong-no 1-ga, Jung-gu, Seoul

6 Thai Noodle
Come here to experience true Thai street food. Enjoy how the wok-fried chilies from the open kitchen start to tickle your nose and nick your throat until tears are welling up in your eyes – and you haven’t even started eating yet! Order a gai phat met mamuang (stir-fried chicken with cashew nuts): the food itself is not too spicy but in true street-stall style there are all the ingredients on the counter you need to add the right amount of hotness, tartness and sweetness to satisfy every craving.
02-749-9585
210-68 Itaewon 2 dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

5 Thai Orchid
Don’t be fooled by the plastic dishes on display at the restaurant entrance. It’s not a tourist trap as their food is authentically Thai. I had a wonderful tom yum talay (spicy sour soup with seafood). It was taste-bud-teasingly hot and packed with seafood, a reason in its own to come again. The other dish that will bring me back is my favorite Thai dessert: the kanom sankaya (steamed pumpkin filled with custard). Sweet and rich and yummy!
02-795-3338
736-9 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

Images provided by Thai Garden

4 Thai Garden
The proud holder of the title “First Thai Restaurant in Korea (1996).” The menu is vast to a point that I had to go with a set menu as I couldn’t decide what not to order. I was happy as can be as the set included a delicious spicy gai phat met mamuang with succulent chicken pieces and a zesty tom yum gung soup with lots of fresh prawns. The finishing touch was an authentic sakhu (tapioca pearls in sweetened coconut milk with sweet corn and red beans). Simply delicious!

thaigarden.co.kr 02-792-8836
3F 737-24 Hannam-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

3 Wang Thai
They have a killer tom yum gung soup and an outstanding pad thai, one of the more difficult dishes to get right as it often tastes way too sweet. Also enjoyable was their yum som tam (green papaya salad), a dish that has to be seriously spicy and it was. Traditionally, it would come with Thai sticky rice to cool you down, but you can’t have it all.

wangthai.kr 02-749-2746
F/3 Younghwa Bldg. Itaewon-dong, Yongsan-gu, Seoul

2 After the Rain
This place is quite unique in finding creative ways to offer true Thai dishes. With my eyes closed, the yum som o (Thai pomelo salad) tasted just like the original, but it didn’t look like it at all. But who cares? It was sweet and spicy and had a hint of coconut and a mountain of fresh shrimp on it. I loved the gaeng goong (shrimp red curry). None of the original Thai veggies were to be found, but it tasted amazing and who would have thought that pumpkin is a great substitute for Thai eggplant. Sorry to say, it’s quite on the pricey side.

atrain.co.kr 02-3446-9375
F/4 Art Bldg., 92-16 Cheongdam-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

1 Yum Thai
This place has it all: fun-loving Thai waiters, a vast menu, a buzzing atmosphere, and hot spicy food. Bring lots of friends so you can order loads of dishes and taste them all. We had an amazing pla sam rod (spicy triple flavor fish) beautifully presented and fiery hot! To cool off your screaming taste buds, they offer real homali Thai rice and cheaply priced Singh or Chang beer. Chok dee!

02-594-7988
5-4 Nonhyeon-dong, Gangnam-gu, Seoul

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