The gifts that Thailand has bestowed upon the world include a brutal form of boxing, ladyboys and, of course, Pad Thai, a dish that owes its popularity more to politics than cultural tradition. During WWII, the Thai prime minister was looking for a way to bolster nationalism as well as the economy and taught peasants to stretch their rice crops by making them into noodles rather than eating them outright to allow rice to become a major export. He then went uber-facist, forced a foreign dialect on most of his people, and allied Thailand with imperial Japan. He was exiled shortly thereafter, but Pad Thai stuck and made its way to our shore.
If Assembly Is Required
After you’ve bought that Ekby Jarpen to hold your Bladhult basket from Ikea and for some reason are still feeling an emptiness in your over consuming life, it might actually be hunger. Forgo the meatballs and ligonberry sauce and head a bit further south to Kavei (320 W. Oregon 215.952.6688). Their shrimp Pad Thai with the traditional rice noodle, mung beans, carrots and egg comes with really firm tofu and a sinus-clearing chili powder that will burn your tongue and warm your credit card-indebted soul. C B P S
If You Have a Long Nose
Named for the three-headed elephant of Thai mythology, Erawan (123 S. 23rd St. 215.567.2542) takes their pachyderm theme seriously by packing peanuts into their shrimp Pad Thai along with the expected rice noodles, scallions, fried tofu and earthy egg. The dish itself is not overtly sweetened (as some are to satisfy Western palates) but rather stays true to the traditional version. C S B P
If You’re Gauche
Try to look past the kitchy Asian funhouse tackiness of Chew Man Chu (400 S. Broad St. 215.735.8107) in the Symphony House because the aesthetically pleasing Pad Thai with fried egg, chicken and shrimp tossed with scallion, daikon root, bean sprouts, peanuts, shredded carrots and red pepper is sweet and slightly spicy. A beautifully balanced dish contrasted with a tasteless setting. Perhaps that was the point. M
If You’re Sweet
Those with a sweet tooth have good reason to smile when they order the chicken and shrimp Pad Thai at Smile Café (105 S. 22nd St. 215.564.2502). The rice noodles, tofu, mung beans and cilantro made us think dinner but the big chunks of eggs and a syrup-y sauce made us feel breakfast. Save the leftovers for brunch … or dessert. M
If You’ve Just Graduated College
In the land of 17th grade (aka Manayunk) is Chabaa Thai Bistro (4371 Main St. 215.483.1979), home of some of the most eclectic and creative takes on Pad Thai yet. Jumbo lump crab Pad Thai with fried tofu, red cabbage, sliced mangos and a sweet cold cucumber salad is refreshing, while the Crepe Pad Thai or the Golden Mountain Temple-Bangkok-style Pad Thai with shrimp and tofu and a delicate golden egg crepe is an east-meets-west favorite. Clocking in at $20 and $22, respectively, these are adult prices in an extended childhood world. C S B
If You Like It Stinky
On the Northwestern edge of Graduate Hospital is My Thai (2200 South St. 215.985.1878) a cozy place with one of the cheaper Pad Thais on the list (it’ll run you $13 and change). Their spicy yet sweet version is made with chicken or shrimp, a thinner broken rice noodle, peanuts, scallions, eggs tofu and a distinct fish sauce finish that’ll keep strangers and friends at arm’s length for the rest of the night. C S
Wine with Mexican Food? Sí!