With Khao Soi, it’s all about the spice.
Its origins date back to the Hui, Muslim people from China’s Yunnan province. Since its conception, Khao Soi has evolved and pulled from different cultures and traditions over the years. Today, it’s largely associated with the northern Thailand region, specifically from Chiang Mai.
The dish is traditionally made using Thai red chili, ginger, turmeric, shallots, toasted coriander seeds and black cardamom crushed in a mortar until it turns into a thick paste. That paste gets fried in a pan, marinates in a protein of choice (usually chicken), then submerged with coconut milk. And despite the scorching hot weather, Khao Soi is a year-round hunch that deserves to be fed, no matter how bad the meat (or curry) sweats get. Here are the best ones we’ve spotted in and around town.
At Nine Thai
Where: 8101 S Quebec St, Centennial
Hours: Closed on Monday. Tuesday-Friday: 3 p.m. – 9 p.m. Saturday: 12 p.m. – 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Sunday: 11:30 a.m. – 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. – 9 p.m.
The Lowdown: Owned and operated by married couple Chuthamet Panthawong and Kritcharat Chainarongsophon, At Nine Thai first opened in Greenwood Village in December 2018, with plans for an additional location at the Denver Tech Center scheduled to open late July. Originally from Chiang Mai and Bangkok, the couple, with the help of family, mix north and south Thai cuisine to deliver Centennial with a much-needed and long-overdue authentic, local Thai spot.
The Khao Soi here is a bit of a showstopper. Although the menu has staple entrees like som tum (Green papaya salad) and a tom yum hot pot that are a must – the Khao Soi ($10.95) is particularly spot-on with incorporating traditional Chiang Mai flavors. Served with a variety of protein options, it’s prepared with a special curry sauce. We don’t know what’s in it exactly, but this is not for the faint of heart when it comes to spice. There are options to keep it low, but don’t do it a disservice.
Where: 845 Colorado Blvd, Denver and 4370 Tennyson St, Denver
Hours: Sunday-Thursday 11 a.m. – 8p.m. Friday & Saturday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
The Lowdown: Swing Thai has expanded its footprint in the Denver metro area since its original launch in 1998 when Denver native Jay Dedrick and Bangkok native Siriporn “Duke” Tayaputch opened the eatery’s first location near Wash Park. The chain now has a spot on Colorado Boulevard, Tennyson Street and the original location off Alameda Avenue and Pennsylvania Street was reworked into a new concept, Hey Bangkok, late last year that also serves some delicious Khao Soi.
Swing Thai’s take on the signature dish, “Kaw Soy Curry” ($14) is garnished with pickled cabbage, lime and fried crispy egg noodles tossed over its yellow curry sauce. It’s spicy, it’s rich and it’s entitled to zero leftovers.
Aloy Modern Thai
Where: 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.
The Lowdown: Located in Ballpark, the modern twist on traditional Thai cuisine opened its first Denver location a decade after its original inception in downtown Boulder, Aloy Thai Cuisine. Owner Kim and her two daughters, Bo Bean and Arisa Chanchokpong, immigrated to Boulder in 2006 and opened their doors to serve authentic Thai dishes derived from family recipes. Sisters Bean and Chanchokpong introduced its contemporary concept in LoDo, Aloy Modern Thai, in 2016. The two merge traditional Thai cuisine with a focus on sustainability, community and consciousness through a seasonal menu and teaming with local farmers to source healthy, local ingredients.
The atmosphere, quality of food and culinary passion infused into each meal extends to its Kao Soi ($20.25), featured under special plates. Served with slow-cooked chicken, yellow coconut curry then topped with a fried egg, it’s a surprisingly lightweight, yet it’ll leave you full. Pair it with an adult Thai tea to cool down the heat.
Where: 406 E Colfax Ave, Denver
Hours: Closed Wednesday. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. – 9:30 p.m. Friday: 11 a.m. – 3 p.m. and 4 p.m.-10 p.m. Saturday: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday: 12 p.m.-9 p.m.
The Lowdown: Tasty Thai opened its first Denver location in April 2018 by Aom Roon with the help of her son, Jortamoit (Jor) Dam Roon. The family-run, now chain of three has expanded to Aurora after taking over Bua Thai Traditional Thai in 2019. Its most recent spot, Tasty Thai and Sushi, opened in Westminster in January 2021. A part of the Mon ethnic group, the Roon family fled genocide in Myanmar and sought refugee in Thailand, eventually settling in Colorado in 2005. After working multiple jobs, Aom, with the help of Jor, brought their love and passion for Thai culture and food to the Mile High City.
The Khaw Soy ($12), is made with a homemade curry paste and a choice of protein, rendering an authentic method of the savory and delectable curry-based soup. And the menu already tells you it’s spicy. So keep some napkins close by, it might get drippy.
Tuk Tuk Thai Grill
Where: 8000 E Quincy Ave, Denver and 218 Union Blvd, Lakewood
Hours: Monday-Sunday: 11 a.m. – 9 p.m.
The Lowdown: Tuk Tuk Thai Grill opened in Colorado in 2000, expanded in the Denver Tech Center in 2004 and then in Lakewood in 2009. Sumalee (Mama Sue) and Vichol (Papa Vic) Chinsomboon immigrated to the United States 50 years ago. Today, the business is family-run by daughters Minty Chinsomboon and Mildy Sundarapura, along with Mildy’s husband Chawanon.
Mama Sue’s recipes have evolved to tailor more to Western-style palettes. But even if it isn’t completely traditional, it’s nonetheless a worthy match. The Khao Soi ($14) here is made with a mix of yellow and red curry that gear it towards spice and savoriness. In October last year, Mama Sue started her own homemade chili oil brand – she’s not big on retirement – Mama Sue’s Kitchen, which’s had pop-ups around Denver, including at Dairy Block and Infinite Monkey Therom, with plans to announce more pop-ups soon.
Taste of Thailand
Where: 2120 S Broadway, Denver
Hours: Tuesday- Friday: 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday: 4:30 p.m. -9 p.m. Saturday & Sunday: 4:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
The Lowdown: Owners Rick and Noy Farrell opened the first Taste of Thailand restaurant in Englewood in 1994 and moved to its new location on South Broadway in 2015. Chef Noy – literally – brings a taste of Thailand to visitors; she takes a trip back home every year (minus in 2020) and returns with locally sourced spices in bulk from Thailand to store and use year-round in recipes. Noy and Rick grow herbs, leaves, seeds, fruits and more in their garden to toss in dishes, too. So not only do Denverites get a literal taste of Thailand, but a full course of love and community with each dish and every ingredient.
Noy’s Khao Soi ($14.95) sits on the special menu, for obvious reasons. It takes time to prepare, and she uses a mix of turmeric, curry and herbal spices for the broth, while the chicken drumsticks marinate in red curry, coconut milk and lemongrass overnight. That gets slow-cooked in the curry, topped with crispy noodles and classic condiments, including basil leaves. She’s a seasoned chef, to say the least, having taught Thai culinary classes in Boston and Denver. If you’re looking for a spot-on, authentic taste of Thailand in Denver, head to South Broadway.
Daughter Thai Kitchen & Bar
Where: 1700 Platte St Suite 140, Denver
Hours: Monday-Thursday: 5 p.m. – 10 p.m. Friday & Saturday: 12 p.m. – 10 p.m. Sunday: 12 p.m. – 9 p.m.
The Lowdown: Chef-owner Ounjit Hardacre got a start operating a small noodle cafe in Bangkok and then worked in upscale Thai restaurants in San Fransisco while completing her MBA. She brought her culinary skills to Daughter Thai Kitchen & Bar in 2019 and runs it alongside Dueanphen Rungru-eang and Orrapan Bottaisong
Khao Soi Kai ($19) is served with shredded chicken and topped with a hard-boiled egg, bean sprouts and crunchy red and green onions. If you want a hardy upgrade, try it Mae Sai style, served with slow-braised short rib and then drizzled with thick, creamy curry sauce – a common way of preparing the dish in Thailand’s northern Chiang Rai province. Choose your fighter: mild, medium or spicy. But this is Thai spicy, so be prepared to break a sweat if you go with the bold choice.
Farmhouse Thai Eatery
Where: 98 Wadsworth Blvd #117, Lakewood
Hours: Closed Mondays. Tuesday-Saturday: 11 a.m.- 9 p.m. Sunday: 11:30 a.m. – 9 p.m.
The Lowdown: Family run, mother-daughter duo May Uree and Toon Imjart run the show at this cozy Lakewood eatery that debuted in May of 2019 with California-inspired culinary skills infused into traditional Thai cuisine – think loaded vegetables – and a welcoming and laid-back ambiance in the heart of one of Denver metros busiest areas.
Authentically Thai, Farmhouse Thai Eatery serves an endless supply of options to choose from, but the Kao Soi’s ($15) flavor profile is excellent, with spice that packs a punch. Served with egg noodles in coconut curry sauce with a chicken leg quarter, the presentation alone is the closest thing you might find in Denver to Thailand’s street food serving.