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Noodle Tuesday: Where's the Best Pad Thai?


Malee Thai's pad thai

In a popularity contest of the noodle world, pad thai has got to be in the top five, along with other noodle crowd-pleasers such as ramen and chow mein. There isn't a single Thai restaurant that doesn't make it; it'd be like McDonald's not selling hamburgers.

So with all the options out there, who has the best?

Unfortunately for me, my favorite pad thai isn't in town—it's at Opal Thai in Haleiwa. So when I'm in town and need a Thai noodle fix, I'll usually order the harder-to-mess up pad khi mao; too often, pad thai in Honolulu is flavored with ketchup, which immediately makes it bad Thai, in my mind. The traditional seasoning for pad thai is tamarind. For a tangy-sweet substitute, I can see why ketchup is appealing ... if you're in Kansas. But not in Honolulu, where there's so much tamarind it rots on the trees. (Non-foragers: it's also available in every Asian market here.)

I checked out two of my usual Thai places in town. For the next Noodle Tuesday, I'll try the pad thai at Hale Aina-winning Thai restaurants (Phuket Thai, Bangkok Chef, Champa Thai). Got a favorite? Let me know in the comments below!

Malee Thai

At Malee Thai, in the Maunakea Marketplace food court, I expected more. The menu there has uncommon items, such as a crispy rice salad, and a condiment tray of peanuts, pickled peppers, and a terrific nam prik pao (a roasted hot chili paste made more complex with shrimp paste), just as at noodle street stands in Thailand. But the pad thai here is seasoned with ketchup and no amount of that fabulous nam prik pao can save it.

Inside Maunakea Marketplace

To Thai For's pad thai

To Thai For
The pad thai at this Kaimuki favorite is a little too sweet, but it also has a nice acidic bite that helps balance the sweetness. I wish it had the traditional peanuts, to amp up the crunch, but it's not bad. What makes it even better? To Thai For just started carrying Big Island Brewhaus beers. Where else can you get a Big Island Overboard IPA to go with your Thai noodles?

3571 Waialae Ave., 734-3443

Yaya Thai's pad thai

Yaya Thai
This is a new food truck that I visited on a lark—it's owned by Mark Arbeit (a fashion photographer) and his wife, Ning. She's originally from Thailand, but the two met in Paris; Arbeit says he kept running into her at parties where she was catering. (Love at first bite, perhaps?)

Yaya Thai just launched a few weeks ago. Ning has installed a wok and burner inside the brand new truck, and you can see her through the window stir-frying noodles when you order them. The menu is very simple, with only seven items, but the pad thai is terrific. It's just barely sweet and minimally seasoned—no goopy noodles here, but dry-fried strands that are just right. A squeeze of lime and extra peanuts, and it'd be perfect.


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