Why Are There So Many Thai Restaurants in America?
There are about 300,000 Thai Americans, which is less than a tenth of the population of Mexican and Chinese people in America, yet there are more than 5,000 Thai restaurants. This is a remarkable phenomenon.
There are several reasons for this. First, Thai food is delicious. It’s also very affordable.
1. It’s popular
Thai restaurants have become omnipresent in America, but why? Many people assume that it’s because Thai food is delicious or because it has a certain cultural cachet, but there are actually a few other reasons why Thai restaurants have become so popular.
For example, some Thai restaurants have branched out to showcase regional cuisines or dishes that were previously hard to find in America. For example, Jitlada, a Los Angeles favorite that was originally reviewed by Jonathan Gold in 2007, began as a repurposed art space and quickly became known for serving bold, exactingly authentic recipes from Thailand.
The Thai government has also been heavily invested in promoting their restaurants abroad, a strategy known as gastrodiplomacy (via Munchies). This has helped to increase tourism and boost the country’s culinary profile worldwide.
2. It’s spicy
If you’re a spice lover, you can’t go wrong with Thai food. Its complex flavors and perfect balance of sweet, spicy and sour make for an explosion of flavor every time you take a bite. But not all Thai restaurants are created equal.
Some restaurants are going the extra mile to serve up the real deal, like Jitlada in New York City. The restaurant serves up some of the most authentic regional Thai dishes, such as lemongrass tiger prawns and crab curry. It’s so spicy, even the bravest of eaters will find their faces dripping with sweat after a meal here!
The emergence of these Thai restaurants shows that the American palate is embracing more of Thailand’s unique cuisines. Munchies reports that more and more restaurants are catering to specific regions of the country, such as the spicy and pungent Isan cuisine in northeastern America.
3. It’s delicious
It’s no secret that Thai food is delicious. With its tantalizing curries, fresh salads, and noodle dishes, Thai cuisine is sure to satisfy any palate. But have you ever wondered why there are so many Thai restaurants in the United States?
The answer to this mystery isn’t as simple as “because it tastes good.” In fact, the ubiquity of Thai restaurants in America is the result of a little-known policy known as “gastrodiplomacy.”
Since the early 2000s, the government has been investing in promoting the global spread of Thai cuisine. This included training chefs and sending them abroad, as well as research on how to adapt Thai recipes to local tastes. The effort has been wildly successful, and as a result, there are now over 15,000 Thai restaurants around the world.
4. It’s affordable
The best Thai restaurants offer an authentic experience at a price that won’t break the bank. The cheapest dishes are typically less than $10. This makes them the perfect place to stop for a quick bite on a night out. You can even grab a snack while you’re there!
There are no shortage of Thai restaurants in Los Angeles. Many of them specialize in regional cuisine and use ingredients unique to the region, like salted preserved fish and rhizomes in the ginger family. Some, like Little Serow in Dupont Circle, serve only set menus that require reservations.
The Covid-19 pandemic has challenged many restaurants to find a way to innovate and still remain viable. One example is the East Village noodle bar Soothr, which offers Thai omakase and generations-old recipes from owner Pichetrungsi’s childhood home in Thailand.
5. It’s trendy
As one of the most popular food genres in America, Thai restaurants are booming nationwide. From trendy, upscale eateries to humble neighborhood favorites, there’s something for everyone.
Wayla serves NYC’s best Thai in a basement storefront with a bar, two dining rooms and a stylish patio. The menu highlights traditional and modern dishes, from khao soi (a curry soup with bouncy egg noodles) to krapow kai daow—fried pork shoulder laced with fiery Tiger Cry sauce served over rice.
Jitlada is Los Angeles’ most famous Thai restaurant—celebrities have been spotted eating here—and for good reason. The chefs don’t hold back on spice, with dishes that make even people with the highest spice tolerance sweat.