The Great Torontoist Challenge: Pad Thai Edition

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The Great Torontoist Challenge: Pad Thai Edition

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Photo by apanatchi from Flickr.
Usually considered a street-stall food, pad thai is not available in Toronto a la cart due to some stringent law in our fair city about hot dogs and their superiority. That having been said, there is still oodles of great pad thai on offer in Toronto, for sit-in, take-out and, as chosen for our challenge, delivery.
Please note we used the word “oodles” because it rhymes with “noodles.” You know where we’re going with this.

The Contestants

  • Spring Rolls. With 8 locations across the GTA, Spring Rolls has been described as the “best takeout,” “a pan-Asian winner,” and, according to the Toronto Star, serves up the “Best Pad Thai in the city.” We’ll see about that.
  • Bangkok Paradise. Bangkok Paradise, located on Queen West, deems their fare to be Authentic Thai. Their website includes the following “testimony”: “………My friends laugh when I order Thai food……. but when their mouth explodes with tastes……..of lemony flavours, chilli peppers, exotic spices and a combination of natural herbs…….they can’t wait to order again.” Intriguing.
  • Urban Thai. Based out of Little Italy, Urban Thai is a favourite of many Torontonians for their distinctly non-Italian dishes.
  • The Friendly Thai. Award-winning and in possession of three locations, The Friendly Thai is open until midnight and is considered by some to be the most successful Toronto-based Asian restaurant chain.

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Photo of Bangkok Paradise’s Pad Thai by Julie Reitsma; Bangkok Paradise exterior photo by Kevin Steele from Flickr.

The Criteria

  • Visuals. Pad Thai involves so many distinct ingredients that when you look at it you want to see all these different components. It should not be all one colour or have many indiscernible bits.
  • Ingredients. Are all the necessary elements there? For example the tofu, shrimp, chicken, egg, lime, green onions, peanuts, tamarind, sprouts, and so on? Are they skimping on the pricier ingredients or is it plentiful?
  • Freshness/Quality. Fresh and quality proteins are key to a good Pad Thai, as are fresh veggies.
  • Noodle. Are the noodles cooked properly? Nothing brings a pad thai down quicker than smooshy or uber crunchy noodles.
  • Flavour. Does it taste like pad thai? Or does it taste like noodles with PB or ketchup on them? Are all the distinct flavours there?

Additional Criteria

There was little variance in the cost of the dishes. All four of the contestants charged about $9.00 for their pad thai. It should be noted, however, that as these were delivery sometimes we had to order extras so that the minimum was met.
Spring Rolls (minimum $20.00 order as we live West of Bathurst); The Friendly Thai (minimum $15.00 order); Urban Thai (minimum $15.00 order or they will add $2.00 on to your order as a fee); Bangkok Paradise (minimum $15.00 order or they will add $2.00 on to your order as a fee).
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The Friendly Thai sign photo by forester401 from Flickr; photo of The Friendly Thai’s Pad Thai by Julie Reitsma.

Results

  • Visuals. Spring Rolls—14/15. Spring Rolls’ offering came in the best container, with a nice clear lid and no squish factor. It also had a nice lemon wedge, green onions and a peanut pile that added colour and flavour.
  • Ingredients. Spring Rolls—11/15. There was maxi-plenty with a clear no-skimp on the ingredients in this pad thai.
  • Freshness/Quality. Urban Thai—11.5/15. All of the components present in this contestant were fresh and well cooked. Thank goodness for that too, ’cause we had had it up to here with the chewy tofu.
  • Noodle. Urban Thai—13/15. Perfectly cooked, a nice thickness, and though some minor stick-togetherness, no real clumping.
  • Flavour. Urban Thai—13/15. Nice level of sauce and seasoning. Tasted like neither ketchup or peanut butter.

Conclusions

Torontoist would not, much like a certain pumpkin tart previously judged, accept Bangkok Paradise’s pad thai as a gift. First of all, before we even opened the styrofoam container it arrived in, we noticed that said container had begun to melt. Upon the opening of this delivery-style Pandora’s box we knew that something had gone seriously wrong. Due to the unfortunate state of the container, the pad thai was left with a molten chemically residue type flavour. The dish was light brown in colour with no sign of tamarind anywhere and was topped with the saddest looking twig of cilantro we have ever seen. Though this was the only entrant with egg, we were able to choose only one meat and so we were shrimpless. This pad thai was bland, food-court quality at best and looked like it had been left, with its container, in the sun for much too long. As one judge so eloquently stated, “if this is authentic Thai, then I don’t want to go to Thailand.”
The Friendly Thai came up next in our Challenge. Though it was relatively nice looking, with a wee peanut pile and a lemon wedge, the meats were quite dry and the shrimp were scarce making it quite noodle-dense. The flavour wasn’t bad, though it seemed a bit hard to place for one judge who described it as having a crazy “gypsy” after-taste. On a whole, we gave The Friendly Thai’s offering a score of “meh.”
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Spring Rolls exterior photo by wvs from Flickr; photo of Spring Rolls’ Pad Thai by Julie Reitsma.
In second place, with a win in two categories, was Spring Rolls. Torontoist would like mention before going into our analysis, that we’d been warned that the pad thai at Spring Rolls was not worth ordering. On the other hand, as stated above, Spring Rolls has been declared by at least one major daily to have the best pad thai in the city. So how did they fare? Not bad at all! Though it was a touch on the “pink” side, it was still quite nice visually. There was lots of shrimp, chicken and tofu which meant that we didn’t have to go on any shrimp-searches. The smell, though not a criteria, was also enticing. While the chicken had a great taste, the rest of the dish was lacking in real punch-you-in-the-face flavour and unfortunately, due to some cilantro that had managed to intertwine itself with the noodlage, lost points with one phobic judge.
Urban Thai was our clear winner and we will definitely order from their fine establishment again. Urban’s offering came with a wee container of very potent self-spice that pleased our judges, but wasn’t necessary for anything other than heat—the flavour of this pad thai didn’t require any extras, was the most enjoyable and seemed to be the most authentic. Though it was a bit scanty on the shrimp, all the components were cooked perfectly and the overall effect was top notch. As they say on the corner of College and Grace, “Questo pad tailandese è fantastico!”
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Urban Thai exterior photo by experttorontogirl from Flickr; photo of Urban Thai’s Pad Thai by Julie Reitsma.

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