#1: Aroy Thai ($7.00)
Noodles: (9/10) Distinct, bouncy, and delicious. Only criticism is that they could have had more color from the wok. But that's nitpicking.
Sauce: (9/10) It's all about the tamarind here. That sourness kept everything else in check, making the whole dish light and fragrant.
Shrimp: (4/5) Big, juicy, and sweet.
Garnishes: (4/5) Peanuts are mixed in, while thinly sliced carrot and two kinds of cabbage add crunch to each bite.
Overall Impression:(9/10) This one has it all: great noodles, a balanced and flavorful sauce, juicy shrimp, and just enough garnishes to add texture. Aroy serves a lot of other great dishes, but you don't feel bad about ordering the pad Thai.
Total Score: (35/40)
#2: Thai Lagoon ($9.95)
Noodles: (8/10) Wide, well-cooked, and robust. Great bite and not clumpy at all.
Sauce: (8/10) Balanced, restrained, and inviting. Not overly sweet, not too tangy.
Shrimp: (4/5) Plump, tender, and juicy.
Garnishes: (3.5/5) No tofu, but plenty of fluffy, tasty, and well-sauced scrambled egg. Bean sprouts, scallion, and carrot ring the plate. Chopped peanut was mixed into the noodles, which added nice, surprising bursts of flavor and differing texture.
Overall: (8/10) This fresh, subtle, and complex pad Thai had us hooked from bite one. The pleasantly firm noodles, which fell on the wider side of the spectrum, anchored this very successful plate.
Total Score: (31.5/40)
Noodles: (8/10) Skinny and elastic. Could have more personality, but are definitely cooked well.
Sauce: (8/10) Really nice mild tamarind flavor. Not too sweet.
Shrimp: (2.5/5) Fine. Could be better, but not offensive.
Garnishes: (3/5) No frills here, just peanuts, bean sprouts, scallion, carrot, cabbage, and lime.
Overall Impression: (8/10) I was a little worried about Rosded, but this is some really solid pad Thai.
Total Score: (29.5/40)
Rosded Restaurant, 2308 West Leland Avenue, Chicago, Illinois 60625 (map); 773-334-9055
#4: Sticky Rice ($8.73)
Noodles: (7/10) Distinct and thin. Only slightly mushy in spots.
Sauce: (6/10) Mild and straightforward. Not too sweet, but also missing tamarind profile. For some reason, lime really helps it out.
Shrimp: (4/5) These are great. Plump and flavorful.
Garnishes: (5/5) Probably the best of the bunch in the garnish department. Bean sprouts, cilantro, scallion, ground peanuts, carrot, lime, plus a decent amount of egg. Also, love the addition of the extra firm tofu.
Overall Impression: (7/10) Has all elements, but doesn't quite come together. Probably needs a better sauce to really work. Plus, Sticky Rice does so many other dishes better, we felt a little guilty ordering the pad Thai.
Total Score: (29/40)
#5: Spoon Thai ($9.90)
Noodles: (7/10) Skinny and elastic. Very blonde and missing char from the wok.
Sauce: (7.5/10) Love the slightly sour tamarind flavor, which keeps the dish from being too sweet. The sauce is also lightly applied, but there is enough there to get the job done.
Shrimp: (3/5) Good, but not great.
Garnishes: (4/5) Love that there is some firm tofu slices mixed in, and there is a good amount of egg. Also included are carrots, bean sprouts, scallion, and peanuts.
Overall Impression: (7/10) This should have all come together beautifully, but instead this was just okay. Couldn't help but feel guilty that we were trying something from the other menu.
Total Score: (28.5/40)
#6: Opart Thai ($8.59)
Noodles: (7/10) Once again, just a little limp. But the noodles have a lot of flavor.
Sauce: (8/10) Rich and dark. This has a definite sweet presence, which lends it a recognizable American pad Thai flavor. It doesn't overpower the other ingredients.
Shrimp: (2/5) Disappointingly small and dry.
Garnishes: (4/5) A nice collection. Carrot, cabbage, peanuts, scallion, and lots of scrambled egg.
Overall Impression: (7.5/10) Totally solid. Even though it's a little sweet, the flavors are there. This could hit the spot if you're craving the dish.
Total Score: (28.5/40)
#7: Thalia Spice ($9.95)
Noodles: (8/10) Great noodles! No clumping, delicately dressed, and tender.
Sauce: (7/10) Not too greasy or sweet overall. Nice balance of sweet and sour.
Shrimp: (3.5/5) Tasty, plump, and fresh, with a subtle dusting of chili powder.
Garnishes: (2.5/5) No tofu and next to no egg—but what egg is here, is good. There are even some signs of char! Chinese chives add sharpness. Bean sprouts, red cabbage, and carrot add crunch.
Overall Impression: (7/10) Compared to others we tried, this pad Thai came off light, balanced, and varied in flavor. The thinner-width noodle definitely contributed to a sense of delicacy that is seemingly hard to pull off with pad Thai.
Total Score: (28/40)
#8: Amarind's ($10.95)
Noodles: (7/10) The noodles don't stick together, but each one is slightly overcooked and gummy. Overall, these work.
Sauce: (7/10) Great tamarind flavor, even if too sweet. Luckily, it's not cloying.
Shrimp: (3/5) These are nicely coated in the sauce and have a robust flavor. Too bad they are also dry.
Garnishes: (4/5) Amarind's has always been good about the garnishes, and it's no different here. Chopped peanuts served along the side with cabbage, scallion, bean sprouts, and some slices of firm tofu.
Overall Impression: (6/10) Like everything at Amarind's, the pad Thai is beautiful. But it just doesn't gel. Other dishes, especially the fried dishes, are the real route to take.
Total Score: (27/40)
#9: Penny's Noodle Shop ($8.95)
Noodles: (7/10) Not a lot of char, but nicely done. Each strand is distinct and relatively bouncy.
Sauce: (6/10) It's too sweet and there's way too much of it. Still, a little sourness helps out, and it's flavorful enough.
Shrimp: (2.5/5) Slightly dry.
Garnishes: (3/5) Nothing out of the ordinary here: peanuts, bean sprouts, red cabbage, and scallions.
Overall Impression: (7/10) It's not going to impress anyone, but this is actually a perfectly decent option if you're after the sweeter style pad Thai.
Total Score: (25.5/40)
#10: Hot Woks Cool Sushi ($9.50)
Noodles: (7.5/10) A very pleasant bite—pretty tender and not too clumpy.
Sauce: (5.5/10) Overly heavy and unctuous. A pronounced honeyed, syrupy sweetness, without much complexity. Some bites do exhibit that sour taramind flavor, which cuts through the sweet. It's a shame to see good noodles dragged down by this weighty sauce.
Shrimp: (3.5/5) Very good. Big, meaty, and nicely grilled.
Garnishes: (2/5) A bit of egg here and there, but really not present. Some bean sprouts mixed in. Side of peanut, cabbage, and carrot. Nice amount of Chinese chive. No tofu.
Overall Impression: (6/10) Respectable noodles and tasty shrimp and garnishes can’t quite make up for the too-rich, one-note sauce that blanketed this plate of pad Thai.
Total Score: (24.5/40)
#11: Thai Village ($7.75)
Noodles: (6/10) Decent color from wok, but overall the noodles are mushy and stuck together.
Sauce: (6/10) Missing the tamarind sourness to balance the sweetness.
Shrimp: (3/5) Fine. The shrimp are not as juicy as they could be.
Garnishes: (3/5) Carrot, bean sprouts, callion, cilantro, and peanuts are all here. Sadly, nothing really jumped out.
Overall Impression: (6/10) Nothing to really hate on, but nothing exceptional either.
Total Score: (24/40)
#12: Tac Quick ($10.95)
Noodles: (5/10) Greasy and gummy. Plus they stick together.
Sauce: (5/10) A definite fruity profile, though way too sweet.
Shrimp: (3.5/5) Very good. Plump and slightly sweet.
Garnishes: (2/5) Not much going on here. Do like the bean sprouts and chopped peanuts on the side. Sadly, there is hardly any egg.
Overall Impression: (5/10) Though we've had decent orders of pad Thai from here before, this one was definitely off.
Total Score: (20.5/40)
#13: Star of Siam ($8.75)
Noodles: (5/10) Limp and woefully overcooked. Not clumpy, but not springy either. Lacking any presence on the plate.
Sauce: (4/10) Sugary-sweet but not complex at all. No tamarind sourness to offset.
Shrimp: (1/5) Unappetizingly undercooked. Pink and bland.
Garnishes:(3/5) Lots of Chinese chive, plus carrot, tofu, some egg, and bean sprouts. But what's this? A lemon? C'mon.
Overall Impression: (4.5/10) This pad Thai was a phoned-in failure in several respects. It was the one place to provide a lemon wedge instead of the customary lime—an indication that the kitchen cares little about the flavors at play.
Total Score: (17.5/40)