Thai cuisine has a long tradition of considering health as one of the main concerns when developing a dish. Many elements are tossed together — meats, spices, a plethora of vegetables — so much so, that to the untrained eye dishes can appear disordered, even unapproachable. But in the hands of a skilled chef, the chaos is transformed into the sublime, each element playing its role in creating a grand harmony. Also, there are few easier ways to achieve such a high density of veggies in such a tight, aromatic space. Lovers of spice, clean-living, and beautiful complexity join hands — here are the best Thai joints in Denver.
Fun fact: our fine city was host to the first Thai restaurant to open in the United States.
Thai Monkey Club
Where: 1508, 102 South Broadway, Denver. 1909, 406 East Colfax Ave., Denver.
Hours: Broadway: Sunday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m. Colfax: Monday, Wednesday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. (closed Tuesday), Saturday and Sunday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Lowdown: Thai Monkey Club’s food is solid, but their real claim to fame is the sheer volume of the menu. Featuring more than 60 items broken down into seven categories — not including drinks or desserts — the list is a force to be reckoned with. The clear designations make things easy and their website is especially good with assisting newcomers. Menu items feature icons including “kids love it,” “has natural spice,” “soup base” and even “gluten-free,” so any problems that may arise from heat, texture or whether it will cause the wee-ones to pout can easily be avoided.
Recommended dish: The Esaan sausage ($7.99) is a sturdy appetizer served with sweet chili-sauce, cashews, strips of mild ginger and cucumbers — a traditional garnish for mitigating the heat.
Where: 5228 West 25th Ave., Edgewater.
Hours: Tuesday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Lowdown: US Thai is located in Edgewater, right on the banks of Sloan’s Lake at 25th and Ames. While the dining room plays host to a plethora of ordinary diners, there will inevitably be a few tables occupied by groups in gym-shorts and tank tops — folks who have literally run in from their jaunt, ready to feast. Lucky for these sweaty and famished, the food is not only great but reaches the table at incredible speed. The place is lively, waitresses zip to and fro with astounding poise. Their energy is contagious.
Recommended dishes: The pork dumplings ($5.75) are four steamed dumplings filled with egg, pork, shrimp, bamboo shoots, yellow onions and black pepper. They are served with a sweet sauce and can be shared, but their caliber has been known to inspire greed. The panang curry ($8.95) is coconut milk, panang curry paste, bell pepper, snap pea, carrot and Thai basil.
Where: 3410 East Colfax Ave., Denver.
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., 5 p.m. – 9 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., 5 p.m. – 10 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m. – 3:30 p.m., 5 p.m. – 10 p.m., closed Sunday.
Lowdown: Tommy’s Thai is chic. Located kitty-corner to the Bluebird Theater, the family-owned business has been serving Denver delicious cuisine since 1988. The stylish interior and floor-to-ceiling windows give the interior a certain spaciousness that makes it the spot an ideal venue for a pre-show date.
Recommended dish: The pad se yew ($10.95) is stir-fried wide rice noodles, sweet-soy, broccoli, eggs and your choice of chicken, beef, pork, veggies or tofu — shrimp being available for an additional $3. The adept frying of the noodles gives them a subtle crispness, and the well-seasoned wok imparts a je ne sais quoi that can only be found in dishes springing forth from a cooking utensil that has enjoyed many times around the sun.
J’s Noodles Star Thai
Where: 945 South Federal Blvd. #E, Denver.
Hours: Tuesday – Friday 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., 5:30 p.m. – 9 p.m., Saturday and Sunday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Lowdown: J’s Noodles is truly one of South Federal’s unsung gems. Tucked away in a strip mall, in an area largely known for its Vietnamese cuisine, J’s is one of those Thai joints where, behind the unpretentious interior — ’70s-pink tables, fake flowers and all — lurks some of the city’s finest cuisine. This place needs no frills, the food here can truly speak for itself.
Recommended dish: The Tom Kha ($8.95) is a heaping cauldron, set over open-flame, of lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaf and mushroom in a citrus-heavy coconut milk broth. The soup is served with a choice of meat and is so damn good that diners could easily down it on even the hottest of summer days.
Aloy Modern Thai
Where: 2017, 2134 Larimer St., Denver.
Hours: Monday – Thursday 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. – 10 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m. – 10 p.m., Sunday 12 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Lowdown: Aloy Modern Thai was opened in 2016 by sisters Bo Bean and Arisa Chanchokpong. After working with their mother in the well-established Boulder hotspot Aloy Thai, the sisters embarked on their own to bring about a farm-to-table concept in the heart of downtown. The result is riveting.
Recommended dishes: The duck rolls ($9) are flaky pastries filled with tender duck, cucumber, lettuce and scallion all served with a house duck-sauce that is good enough to take a shot of. The green curry with Kobe beef ($16) is sweet pepper, zucchini, carrot, eggplant, Thai basil and green coconut curry. Despite the quality of the beef, the buttery eggplant still manages to steal the show as the dish’s most inspired underdog.
Where: 2719 Iris Ave., Boulder.
Hours: Monday – Saturday 11 a.m. – 9:30 p.m., Sunday 4:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
Lowdown: Buddha Thai is up in Boulder, but the food is worth the journey. The neighborhood spot serves up traditional dishes with close attention to detail, and while nothing on the menu is particularly innovative, the chefs take great care to give each dish their own particular stamp.
Recommended dishes: The drunken noodles ($10.95) are pan-fried wide rice noodles, egg, bell pepper, broccoli, tomatoes, mushrooms, basil, carrots and chili sauce. The noodles are fried perfectly so that the chili sauce caramelizes and leaves the edges of some choice noodles blackened — resulting in a sweet, smokey and crispy meal fit for a king. The red curry ($10.95) is made thick. While a lot of curries come out fairly soupy, Buddha’s variation is as burly as country gravy.
Thai Diamond Cafe
Where: 1560 Kipling St., Lakewood.
Hours: Monday – Friday 11 a.m. – 9 p.m., Saturday 12 p.m. – 9 p.m., closed Sunday.
Lowdown: Thai Diamond Cafe is off the beaten path, but the Lakewood-based spot off Colfax and Kipling is an impressive, if understated, venture. The menu features many of the usual suspects and includes a solid selection of seafood options.
Recommended dishes: The pla rad prik ($12.45) is a deep-fried filet of cod, broccoli, carrot, bell pepper and basil with red chili sauce. The fish is crisped to a golden brown and the red chili sauce could not be a better accompaniment. The homemade Thai custard with coconut sticky rice ($4.95) is crispy slices of custard and sweet rice — the perfect way to round out any Thai meal.
All photography by Colin Wrenn and Alden Bonecutter.