For a Fresh Take on Cocktails, Head to a Thai Restaurant

Inspired by the flavors of regional cuisines, these Thai restaurants are serving some of the most exciting drinks in the country right now

May 15, 2024 12:06 pm
SAPPE Bunlueng Cocktail
The Bunlueng cocktail at Sappe
Pratya Jankong

A couple of decades ago, most Americans who ate Thai food were only familiar with the “greatest hits” — dishes like Pad Thai and satay, or maybe the more adventurous went for Massaman curry or holy basil. If these restaurants served alcoholic cocktails at all, they were just calorie bombs of fruit purée and coconut milk, or perhaps a variation of Thai iced tea.

But thanks to late 1990s and early 2000s restos like the sadly departed Pok Pok in Portland, OR, and New York City and dozens of other wildly popular eateries, American diners around the country have been introduced to Thailand’s more authentic regional dishes and its wide spectrum of aromatics, textures and tingly spices. The cocktail programs in American Thai restaurants have caught up, too. To match the food menu, culinary-inspired cocktail recipes featuring homemade spirit infusions and molecular kitchen techniques are presented as drinkable works of art that represent the flavors of Thai cooking, history and culture. 

Not only are these restaurants serving some of the best cocktails using Thai flavors, they’re serving some of the coolest cocktails period.

Where to Find the Best Thai Food in NYC
With 11 spots on this list, you can get your Thai fix no matter where in the city you find yourself

Sappe, New York, NY

Pronounced “sep,” the team behind the successful East Village restaurant Soothr opened this eatery on West 14th Street in Chelsea this past January, serving Northeastern Thai specialties with seriously cool cocktails to complement the cuisine. The food menu is divided into seven sections: and is a mix of grills with dipping spice powder (ping yang), all things fried (tod), grills and BBQs (ping yang a la carte), salads, rice and noodles, larger entrees, and desserts. The main dining room is retro diner chic, and the back is tricked out like a glamorous Esan train bar and has a stained glass window with pikun flower details overlooking a romantic indoor garden-like setting. 

SAPPE Private Dining Room
Sappe’s private dining room
Pratya Jankong

Cocktails from Beverage Director/creative partner Supatta Banklouy and his team range from offbeat (though quite delicious) TikTok fodder to simple refreshers. Keerati — Japanese gin, sake, hibiscus, yuzu and egg white — comes with an edible garnish depicting the portrait of the heroine of a beloved Thai romance novel. A server “bombs” it tableside with a bubble of aromatics that pops over the glass.

Riam is sticky rice-infused vodka served in a ceramic vessel with a side of sake “holy water” that can be poured in according to taste. It’s presented with a snazzy bowl of ice to retain consistent serving temperature. The E-Tim is a savory onion and chili concoction featuring Japanese whisky with a spicy nam pla wan foam. Boonrad is the bar’s answer to the Blue Hawaii, and Bunleung is a high-end Old Fashioned with French whiskey, Champagne and house bitters. Those are just a few highlights of an impressive drinks menu that manages to be both fancifully presented and thoughtfully balanced in flavor.

Nahm Fine Thai Cuisine, Atlanta, GA

This restaurant is the brainchild of Nahm Stamm, who has a fashion and art background and came to fine dining through training at the Four Seasons in Thailand. She opened Nahm Fine Thai Cuisine to introduce the people of Atlanta to authentic, sophisticated Thai dishes she couldn’t find anywhere else in the city. The eatery has since won numerous awards for its food and top-notch wine menu. 

The cocktails are on par with the high-end wine list. The Stars & Clouds takes the Cosmo formula and sends it up with rose tea caviar, Thai sala syrup foam and a gold leaf garnish. Rice Field is made with banana-infused bourbon, banana liqueur, lime juice, bitter ginger, egg white and Thai sun-dried banana. I Wish I Was in Thailand is the house spicy Margarita with tequila reposado, fresh mango purée, sweet lime juice and jalapeño with a salt, sugar and Thai chili flakes rim. There is even a Thai Lemongrass Mojito made with lemongrass syrup instead of plain sugar. 

Thaiku, Seattle, WA

The name for this modern day restaurant, which rose from the popular mid-1990s staple Fremont Noodle House (it tragically closed in 2001), is a brilliant mashup of “Thai” and “Haiku.” The menu is just as poetic. Diners love it for the wide variety of rice and noodle dishes, but the drinks list is also worth celebrating this resto team’s revival. The Mekhong Mule is Thai spiced rum mixed with Paul’s, a local ginger beer. The Yohimbe Manhattan gets a flavor boost from yohimbe (African tree bark) tincture, and Radiant Flower is a take on the South Side made with schisandra berry and white peony root-infused gin. Finally, The Emerald is a mezcal-based nod to the Last Word, a pre-Prohibition cocktail famously revived in Seattle by bartender Murray Stenson in the 1990s. 

Chang Thai Cafe, Littleton, NH

In 2008, Bangkok-born Emshika Alberini was one of the first modern entrepreneurs to open a business on Main Street in Littleton, which is about an hour and change from Portland, ME. The restaurant is a tribute to her late sister and features dishes from Thailand but also other parts of South Asia. This food includes a surf and turf with seasoned grilled steak, shrimp, sticky rice and house salad, along with a variety of vegetarian, seafood and meat dumplings, noodle dishes, soups, and a separate kid’s menu with Thai spiced chicken fingers that adults crave, too. 

The Thai Chili Gin Martini is made with an exclusive house gin from nearby Tamworth Distilling. Bangkok Mai Tai spices up the typical formula, and diners can choose from the juicy Summer Sangria, a Mango Sticky Rice Martini, Monkey On the Beach or Happy Elephant to cool the palate.

Farmhouse Kitchen, Multiple Locations, CA

This California chain of Thai eateries is known for its generous spice content. They tend to book large groups because it’s hard to pick just a few things off the impressive and fun-focused food menu — think Dungeness crab pad Thai, oxtail curry, Wagyu beef jerky and a house specialty called the “Basil Bomb,” among other popular dishes. 

Some of their signature cocktails include Trouble in Thailand with spicy tamarindo, sabe blanco, tamarindo shrub, citrus, agave and “fire tincture.” Lod Chong is a Piña Colada riff with sake, rum, house-made pandan cordial, coconut cream and lime. Love Love Love is an Amaretto Sour variation that’s a formidable match for the fiery dishes, made with amaretto, High West rye, lemon, pomegranate and aromatic bitters. Several of the drinks on the menu are also available without alcohol, along with other zero-alc options. 

While most of the cocktails mentioned above are made using proprietary infusions and other ingredients that might be harder to source in the wild, here are a couple of recipes to try at home.

SAPPE Renu Cocktail
Sappe’s Renu cocktail
Pratya Jankong


Servings: 1

  • 1 oz. Lillet Rouge
  • .5 oz. mezcal
  • .5 oz. crème de cassis
  • .5 oz. Amaro di Angostura
    1. Add all ingredients to a mixing glass with ice and stir for 30 seconds.

    2. Strain into a small rocks glass over spherical ice. Garnish with a small sheet of gold leaf, if desired.

Mango Sticky Rice Martini
Chang Thai Cafe’s Mango Sticky Rice Martini
Dan McMahon

Mango Sticky Rice Martini

Servings: 1

  • 2 oz. coconut rum
  • 1 oz. vanilla vodka
  • 1.5 oz. mango juice
  • 1 Tbsp. coconut cream
  • Pinch of black and white sesame seeds, for garnish
  • Thinly-sliced mango, for garnish
    1. Add the coconut rum, vanilla vodka and mango juice into a shaker, and shake well with ice until cold and frothy.

    2. Strain into a Martini glass or coupe glass. Top with coconut cream, a very light pinch of sesame seeds and a skewered mango strip.


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