Thai cuisine contains a spectrum of flavors and textures so vast that no two dishes are ever the same. Even tried-and-true dishes -- like everyone’s favorite, pad thai -- is open to interpretation and varies in preparation across the different provinces in Thailand. Thailand’s four regions -- Northern, Central, Southern, and Isaan or Northeastern -- each possess unique cultures, dialects, and treasured cuisines. The specialities within each region rely on the varying resources found within their respective environments: seafood and fresh coconuts in the South, mountain veggies and herbs in the North, intense chilis and sticky rice in the Northeast, and a hodgepodge of all those ingredients at the center.
In the U.S. now, there are reportedly over 5,000 Thai restaurants to choose from, with regional specialty spots popping up left and right. Chefs from every corner of Thailand are venturing stateside and offering up their best, abandoning Americanized pad see ews and yet another dish of massaman curry. As Thomas Fuller wrote in the New York Times, “A number of restaurants here serve dishes that respect the complexity of Thai food and its balance of sweet, sour, salt, and spice. They’re part of a sea [of] change that in recent years has produced ambitious and acclaimed Thai restaurants around the country.”
So if you find yourself retreating back to pad thai through every take-out order or visit to your local Thai spot, you’re missing out on some of the best dishes Thai cuisine has to offer. So here are 11 Thai dishes -- from khao soi to crying tiger -- you should order next time you’ve got a hankering for Thai food.