Pai Northern Thai Kitchen (Toronto)

Location: Toronto, Canada
Address: 18 Duncan Street
Type of Meal: Dinner

When Janet Zuccarini and Jeff Regular gets behind the kitchen and cooks Thai, people follow. I’ve been trying to get a taste of their original creations for years. From Khao San Road to Sukho Thai, it seems that every time I finally make it into the restaurant, they sneak away to open yet another place. This time I did it – I’ve eaten at Pai while the Regulars (as they are referred to by media) are still in power.

Since Khao San Road, they have realized that there is nothing wrong with taking reservations. As a person who hates waiting in lines, I’m thankful for that. And trust me, you’ll want reservations, as even visiting on a weeknight Pai was packed.

The set-up looks familiar – simple wooden tables packed close together in a long narrow restaurant. At Pai, there are a couple of cool features including a tatami sitting area and a rotating wooden barrel at the bar. Their menu still revolves around starchy Thai comfort foods, but sadly my beloved garlic shrimp is nowhere to be found.

On this visit, I took the advice of the waitress and ordered gaeng kiaw wan ($15). The green curry is served in a coconut, with an extra portion in a bowl on the side. Alas, other than being decorative the coconut doesn’t add much (I tried scraping the sides for some coconut meat but there was none to be found), but it sure does look nice.

The curry is chocked full of tender chicken slices, bamboo shoots and bell peppers, with basil and kaffir lime leaves to provide more flavour. To be safe, I went with a medium level of spiciness, so there was a bit of heat. But, the slightly sweet coconut milk was definitely more pronounced. So, I’d likely up it to the “foreigner spicy” level next time.

Keep in mind the spiciness of each dish really differs. My friend ordered her khao soi ($14) “mild” and I really didn’t find a noticeable change in heat between her noodle dish and my curry. I’ve had this egg noodles in golden curry dish at Sukho Thai and they taste similar. But, at Pai the beef arrives in much larger chunks – not good or bad but requires the eater to try to break it up with chopsticks.

Although I didn’t try it, the vegetarian pad thai ($14) my friend had smelled very good.

As a warning, food service is slow – so, you’ll likely not want to show up starving. The music is also much too loud, so I’d suggest sticking with a table of four or less if you want a chance of having a conversation. But, I’m glad for the opportunity to eat at a place Janet and Jeff are still managing; their creations do not disappoint. Well, may if Pai can add the crispy garlic shrimp to their menu… than it’d be even better.

Overall mark - 8 out of 10

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Gastro World's Grading System

  • Anything under 5 - I really disliked and will never go back
  • - decent restaurant but I likely won't return
  • 7 - decent restaurant and I will likely return
  • 8 - great restaurant that I'd be happy to recommend
  • 9 - fantastic restaurant that I would love to visit regularly and highly recommend
  • 10 - absolute perfection!