Pad Thai: Authentic Flavors from Thailand
Authentic Asian food is hard to find in Mexico. There seems to be a new “fusion” joint opening every day-- a little of this and a little of that add up to a big nothing. Worse, I have seen the word “Thai” bandied about as a euphemism for the word Asian. A “Thai” style salad at one place had a yogurt dressing! (dairy products are almost non-existent in South east Asia). Another bogus Condesa joint offers Thai dishes featuring soy sauce – anybody who has been to Thailand knows that soy sauce is minimally used there, and only in dishes of Chinese origin.
But something’s different at an unpretentious restaurant called Pad Thai. Bangkok born and trained chef Suphanee Somthaisong (familiarly, and more easily known as Bo) presides over her kitchen. All the dishes on her small menu are authentic Thai recipes carefully prepared using the proper ingredients. The chef, who is married to an American businessman stationed in Mexico, first worked at another Asian restaurant here before opening her own. “My goal is to show Mexico what real Thai cooking can be, using fresh local, as well as the correct imported ingredients”, the chef told me. Although she can find almost everything she needs here, several herbs have to be imported in their dry versions. The chef has plans to grow her own herbs: “I would like to buy some land and grow kaffir lime, galangal, lemongrass and other things that really should be fresh – this would be ideal”. But meanwhile, the food here is as good as it gets. I’ve traveled extensively in Thailand and can report that the chef has achieved her goal. Start with a couple of satays, succulent skewered chicken served with a mildly spicy peanut sauce. Fresh spring rolls, a soft rice crepe containing rice noodles, lettuce, mint, basil and shrimp are light and nicely complimented by their sweet and sour dipping sauce.
Moving on there are two classic soups to choose from: Tom Yum Goong, the spicy/tart shrimp soup in a clear broth, and Tom Kha Gai, made with coconut milk and chicken. Both are perfumed with lemongrass and galangal, a ginger-like root that has its own peculiar flavor and is essential in many Thai soups and curries. The quality of the pad thai (which means, simply, Thai noodles) is a test for any Thai restaurant and here it is correct – the balance of sweet, tart, spicy and salty are synced to perfection.
But best of all are the coconut curries, green and red. I haven’t tasted Thai curries as good since my last trip to Bangkok; subtle and fresh, they are prepared carefully and knowledgeably – no canned paste here. Order steamed jasmine rice and lemongrass tea, the house specialty and you won’t be disappointed. One caveat: I recommend you request a little more chili if you really want authentic Thai food – ironically, as we are in Mexico, land of chili, the dishes tend to be toned down to accomodate foreign palettes. The chef, who wisely keeps her menu limited, has a much larger repertoire of dishes and will gladly prepare them for large groups. One of my favorite salads, made with shredded green papaya, is not on the menu – the main ingredient is hard to find here in the city. But it, along with such Thai standards as larb (chopped meat salad), and whole fish with lemongrass can be special ordered. Décor is minimal/modern and prices are reasonable – a full meal will be around $150 per person. There is no liquor license as of yet so BYOB. Staff is friendly, but obviously new at the game and so can be a little frazzled when the going gets rough.
Pad Thai is a welcome addition to the restaurant scene and will make aficionados of the real thing happy.
* Author’s note 2019: Since I wrote this review, the owner has sold Pad Thai; it remains but I have not been back so cannot vouch for the food.
Sonora 49, near Durango
Open daily 1-10 or 11PM
Catherine June 3, 2009 I recently organised my birthday meal here as I read about this place on Jim´s blog... I set up a 4 course banquet which came to only 170 pesos per head, plus because it was such a large group...ie 17 they kept the restaurant open solely for us from 8pm until midnight and we allowed to take our own beer and wine and music and essentially have a private party... and the food was delicious... so thanks to both of you for the recommendation!!
Felipe June 3, 2009 I just returned from Mexico City, and now you write this! No matter. I´ll be back. Real Thai food! A blessing. Thanks for bringing it to my attention. I imagine I speak for others. Keep up the good work.
davemx June 4, 2009 Another Thai option was so much needed! The Thai Gardens in Polanco is very good but soooo expensive and its portions sooooo small, that I just don't eat there anymore. Back in the mid-90's, there were some very good and authentic Thai restos in Mexico City but they didn't last long. I guess the timing wasn't right. One was in Prado Norte- beetween Las Flautas and "el correo"- and it offered a fantastic buffet for a very reasonable price. Another was in the food court of the then new, but destined-to-fail mall known as Interlomas. It was pretty good but terribly located. I'm sure Pad Thai will be a huge success. I Will try it very soon!
Ning July 4, 2009 When I went to Mexico last year, we didn't know about this place. It sounds very good. Now that we are planning to move from Thailand to Mexico City, it gives me a real comfort to know that there is an authentic Thai restaurant with a reasonable price there .. otherwise we might have to open one ourselves! (I'm Thai dating a Mexican :). Thanks for this info!
joeb April 14, 2010 First off, just want to say what a great resource this site is. Thanks so much Nick. I am on the hunt for some Thai spices and was hoping someone out there has an idea about where (if?)I can find lemongrass and kafir lime leaves here in this city? Thai basil...????
Nicholas Gilman April 15, 2010 You will find lemongrass at any market in Mexico, it is sold in little bundles as 'té de limón' but they cut most of the white part off, which is what you need for Thai dishes - better than nothing. Also for sale by herb vendors is fresh tumeric - they erroneously call it 'asafrán'. Kaffir lime doesn't exist here, nor does galangal. Best to smuggle some in from elsewhere! You can get those little cans of Thai curry paste at Super Oriental in Coyoacan (corner Londres and Division del Norte); they have fish sauce and rice noodles as well.
Felipe July 12, 2010 Alas, my most recent experience there was unpleasant. That was just a few weeks ago. My wife and I were surprised to find the place almost full at comida time, about 3-ish. Our previous weekday visits at that hour have found the restaurant almost empty, so they are getting more popular. My wife and I ordered a spring roll each. These are the hugest spring rolls I´ve ever seen in a Thai restaurant. You could use them for battering rams, size-wise, though they are tasty. The previous visit they were served with a sweet sauce instead of what I believe is a more traditional peanut sauce. That´s what I´ve received with spring rolls in every other Thai and Vietnamese restaurant over many years. So this time I specifically asked for a peanut sauce and got a peanut sauce. Wasn´t the best peanut sauce, however, but better than the sweet sauce (yuck!). My wife and I then both ordered Pad Thai. In due time, a Pad Thai arrived. Since it is not uncommon, sadly, for restaurants in Mexico to bring first one person´s main dish and then (some time later) the other person´s main dish, we did not say anything. But time passed, so I asked the waiter about the other Pad Thai. He gave me a deadpan look and went to the kitchen. It was pretty clear we had had a lapse in communication earlier. We waited and waited for the second Pad Thai, which finally arrived. No apology. No acknowledgment of a misunderstanding. Nada. If he had said something, anything, even the slightest hint of remorse about the confusion, I would have been sufficiently content. I realize that foul-ups happen. It´s life. But he said nothing. So I was a little steamed. As a result, I left no tip. I did not like his attitude. Guess what? He followed me into the street, asking where his tip was! Said 10 percent was usual, which is true in Mexico though many Gringos are unaware, thinking it´s 15 percent like up north. I do leave 15 percent for good service, in any event. I told him I didn´t care what was standard, the service was bad. He skulked back into the restaurant, and I departed. I wonder if the nice lady who runs the place knows her waiters chase customers into the street, demanding tips. It´s unlikely I will return. Thinking back on it, I would bet money he had no idea what I was referring to. He was that clueless.
Anonymous July 13, 2010 Hi, I'm Da, the owner of Pad Thai. Thanks for saying I'm nice! I will definitely talk to my employees to make sure this never happens again. Please feel free to send me any comments to firstname.lastname@example.org Hope to see you again and sorry for any bad feelings. Regards
Felipe July 14, 2010 Well, I´ll be darned. A Thai who speaks perfect English running a restaurant in Mexico. My wife was less irritated by the experience than I was and wants to return. Perhaps we shall. We are only in Mexico City every few months. I´m still wondering what´s up with those spring rolls the size of redwood trees. Manually, they are difficult to deal with. Yes, you spoke to us briefly about the peanut sauce, and you did seem quite nice. Cute too. I wish you growing success with the restaurant. But the occasional touch of the bullwhip on your waiters would be satisfying. Actually, just that one waiter whose name I do not know. A note from Good Food: I do not condone the insulting and condescending comment above!
C.M. Mayo July 26, 2011 Thank you, Nicholas, for this recommendation. I recently had lunch here and it was wonderful. A cozy little space, excellent service, excellent food. All very fresh, good quality. I shared the chicken satay, pad thai with shrimp, and coconut flan. Now back to the diet...
Anonymous August 8, 2011 Three of us from So. Oregon recently visited Mexico City where we had many extraordinary experiences. We staying at the lovely Red Tree House B&B where we were introduced to Da, owner of Pad Thai and friend of the owners. When Da learned we were first time visitors, she invited us to her restaurant and personally cooked for us. It was wonderful!! I strongly recommend the Red Tree House for beautiful accommodations and Pad Thai for a fabulous dinner. KS in Ashland, OR
Anonymous September 7, 2011 I was disappointed with Pad Thai..I live in Mexico DF and found it much more expensive than 150 per person and the dishes not as authentically tasty as i needed and the table service slow and confused..we were in a large group however. But its hard to get the ingredients in Mexico and Pad Thai was better than anything else Thai in the city. I cook Thai and Indian. Maybe Im spoiled by good cheap Thai you get in Australia where I am from originally and from downtown NYC.
Boon January 15, 2012 We went to Pad Thai a few months ago and were quite disappointed as the flavours didn't taste anything like Thai food. We discovered a new place called Bangkok last week in the Plaza de las Estrellas, along Melchor Ocampo 193. The kitchen is manned by Thais and the taste is as authentic as we could find here in Mexico City (so far) that resembles Thai food in Thailand. We feel that they are even more authentic than Thai Gardens. (I am a Singaporean who loves Thai food and have worked for long periods in Bangkok and travelled extensively in Thailand). Enjoy...
Niamh May 11, 2012 Never having been in Thailand, we were very enthusiastic about Pad Thai at the beginning, liking the fresh taste and the prices. However, recently we have become disenchanted with it and wonder why the quality has gone down. Once excellent, the yellow curry is now more watery and less flavoursome. Yesterday my husband ordered food there to take away and when he got home we discovered we had been given no rice for my red curry. According to No. 64 on the menu, Thai rice comes with all dishes (obviously not the ones with noodles). His Pad Thai had a total of four bits of beef in it. Very disappointing. Has anyone else noticed the quality sliding?
Anonymous August 18, 2012 Very cozy spot, one thing did bother me...the staff a guy named Omar I think has a very dry attitude almost doesn't make you feel welcome in the spot. As I type this I'm in the restaurant waiting for my dish I shall write another review afterwards. I've eaten at the Thai gardens in condesa before and their staff greets you with a smile and make you feel at home. Food wise they are pretty authentic but it is pricey.
Anonymous November 2, 2012 I have never actually eaten at Pad Thai but I live in the area. I lived in Thailand a few years ago and stopped to ask about their menu. The waiter was nice until I asked if I could get a bigger portion of the Tom Yung Gung soup. I explained that I wanted it as a meal with jasmine rice and he was very adamant that it was not possible. Having lived In Mexico (Guadalajara mostly) for 5 years, I was not at all impressed by the service. The waiter was quite rude and did not care that he was losing business. BTW- for the viewer that said that spring rolls are almost always served with peanut sauce, that is incorrect. It is probably more common to see the sweet and spicy chili sauce served with the rolls. The peanut sauce is more commonly served with satee.