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Photo Credit: Emily KnudsenU 

Thai North Restaurant 
433 Faneuil St., Brighton | (617) 254-2025 | thainorthbrighton.com

Why is the best Thai restaurant in the area consistently empty on Friday nights? Why are cookie-cutter places serving New American fare still teeming with crowds? Examining the situation, a cynic might explain that the local food scene is about celebrity, location, design, buzzwords like farm-to-table, anything but the actual food. An optimist, and I’m one of them, sees this 16-seat hole-in-the-wall in Oak Square as a chance to prove that structured, thoughtfully prepared dishes will win out, and that Bostonians aren’t segregating ethnic cuisine from the category of first-rate food.

On first glance, Thai North’s stellar culinary chops aren’t obvious. The restaurant has been around for a year and a half, but most of its business comes from delivery and takeout orders; its customers linger only long enough to pick up their pad Thai or chicken satay. Neither of these ubiquitous Thai staples reflects the creativity of the restaurant’s better dishes, but they provide interesting twists on the usual. (The satay, for example, provided a generous portion of dark meat with spicy chili-peanut
and sweet-vinegar dipping sauces.)

There’s little logic to the menu. Some Vietnamese dishes appear scattered throughout; the listed house specials neither correspond to the pictures on the wall nor to the changing 17-item chalkboard menu of northern Thai specialties propped in the rear; and the friendly waitress is easily frazzled when more than two tables are filled. But order from the chalkboard or the photos, and you’ll be rewarded with spicy dishes from Thailand’s Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai regions that you won’t find anywhere else in Boston.

You won’t go wrong ordering anything with pork. The tomato ground pork ($9.50) was a gorgeous fish-sauce-and-cilantro-infused dip served with purple-and-white sticky rice and a platter of steamed green beans, broccoli florets, cabbage and sliced carrots to counter the chili kick. Pork rinds and raw cucumbers provided crunch. Chiang Mai sausage ($10) was brimming with finely chopped lemongrass and chilies, and held a citrusy, smoky flavor. The wonderful pork salad ($11.25) understated its meatiness, as crackling, shredded pork and offal bits combined with the fiery fish sauce for an intense larb.

The non-pork dishes proved more inconsistent. The duck salad ($13.50) lacked the textural contrast of the pork version, and the poultry could’ve passed for any meat. The Chiang Mai noodle curry ($8.25),
initially a revelation that had me mentally scribing a five-star review on my first visit, was a disappointment thereafter. On that initial try, the pungent broth had notes of oil-fried spices—yellow curry, bay leaf, galangal, ginger and mace, among others—and an infusion of rich chicken stock that tasted as if it had been simmering for days. On a subsequent visit, the dish was still delicious, but the broth was a watery relation to its full-bodied predecessor. The Northern herb fish ($10.50) was a banana-leaf–wrapped chili bomb, the steamed white fillet exploding with mortar-and-pestled spices, and sticky rice served in straw cylinders provided an outstanding accompaniment.

Although it doesn’t have a liquor license, Thai North will deliver its chalkboard offerings within a three-mile radius for those who don’t want to trek to the Brighton-Brookline border. This still means an investment of a visit, because the specialties aren’t listed on its website or through third-party sites that handle delivery. The disparity in the demand for these dishes—where Thai North’s uniqueness and excellence shines—versus the demand for more generic pan-Asian items reflects a challenge for so-called ethnic cuisine. With any luck, an influx
of customers will encourage the specials to take center stage instead of being relegated, as they are now, to the back of the room. 

B.N.’s Picks
• Pork salad
• Chiang Mai sausage
• Chiang Mai noodle curry
• Northern herb fish

Hours: Mon.-Thu., 11:30 am-9:30 pm; Fri.-Sun., 11:30 am-10 pm 
Reservations: Yes 
Credit Cards: Yes 
Handicapped Accessible: Yes 
Parking: Street 
Liquor: No