Situated along an unassuming side-street in downtown Toronto, Pai is offering visitors and locals a taste of authentic northern Thai food in a lively and fun environment. Located at 18 Duncan Street in the lower level, at first glance you might not know what to expect. From the outside a large road sign reads "Pai" in both English and Thai writing with an arrow pointing ahead, urging you to come and see what's inside.
The real Pai is a northern town in Thailand of only a few thousand people, located about 80km north of the bustling northern city of Chiang Mai. It is here that the food, and the folks that created Pai restaurant started. Nuit, a native Thai, and Jeff, a Canadian backpacker met in Pai during an elephant ride and soon started dating. Before too long Jeff's entrepreneurial spirit and Nuit's love of cooking collided and they opened a restaurant in Pai, much to the delight of locals and travelers alike. Nuit eventually handed over the restaurant to her brother before she and Jeff moved to Canada to pursue their dream of bringing northern Thai food to the Canadian diner.
After starting two other successful Thai restaurants in Toronto, Nuit and Jeff finally found the perfect location to create their vision for Pai restaurant. Unlike most Thai restaurants, you won't find linen tablecloths and soft Thai music playing at Pai. Instead, the street-food inspired interior made with reclaimed wood and colourful strings of pennants and the naturally raw interior of this old downtown building creates an almost party atmosphere, amplified by tastefully chosem classic rock music played at just the right volume. When our team arrived on a Thursday night, the place was already packed. I'm told that the lunch service is just as busy.
We were given a special table on the "stage" which is a raised platform with two tables. Diners must remove their shoes as is customary when entering a Thai house, and the dinner is eaten cross-legged around low square tables, in the traditional Thai way. We were soon greeted by our server who had food selected for us to try.
Pak Boong Fai Deng (Morning Glory) - Vegan
The greens were slightly sweet, very garlicky, fresh and light. Not overcooked at all, but not stringy or hard to eat.
Tom Yum Nam Sai Kung Mor Fai
Lots of shrimps, mushrooms, cilantro, lemongrass -- medium spicy, sweet, lots of coconut, fresh tomato. The shrimp not overcooked, which is easy to do in a soup. Excellent depth of flavour, easily one of the best Tom Yum soups I have had.
Refreshing and a great palette cleanser, fun to try different combinations. The fillings are eaten rolled up in the leaves, like a little burrito or sushi.
Som Tum Tad (Papaya Salad)
Pork rinds are smoky and crispy and not greasy. The papaya salad the slightly spicy, with tasty dried shrimps. The chicken wings were deep fried with a nice crispy skin but moist and perfectly cooked inside.
Gaeng Kiaw Wan (Vegetarian green curry) in a coconut!
The green curry was a little sweet and quite mild, with lots of nearly raw, crunchy vegetables and firm strips of tofu inside. Serving it in the coconut added a lot of fun to the presentation.
Sai Ua Platter (Northern Thai Sausage)
The sausage was soft, spicy and full of herbs with a nice pork flavour. The ground pork had a very balanced, refined flavour, with lots of garlic and tomato.
Pai restaurant is definitely a meeting of the minds, and a testament to what can happen when people from very different backgrounds get together to make something great. Chef Nuit, who gave up her nursing career to pursue her love of cooking, and Jeff, who discovered a way to bring his love of traveling and northern Thailand to the people of Toronto seem to have succeeded in satisfying a local desire for great food served in a great environment. If you're looking for something fun and absolutely delicious, Pai restaurant is a definite must-try.