There’s a reason that 5 Thai Bistro in downtown Portsmouth, with its simple but bright dining space, is so loved by locals and visitors alike. The restaurant, consistently ranked in the top 10 on TripAdvisor, boasts a winning formula: creative dishes with balanced and fresh ingredients, generous portions, fair prices, and an attentive wait staff. No wonder the place is always buzzing.
“We know how to cook Thai food,” owner Nuttaya Suriyayanyong says. “We are all from Thailand and have worked in Thai restaurants. But we’ve adjusted the recipes to our taste.” In fact, they’ve adjusted the recipes to satisfy a lot of people’s tastes. It’s not unusual for the compact restaurant, which opened just over two years ago, to be packed at lunchtime, when the encyclopedic menu features smaller portions of the restaurant’s popular dinner dishes.
Consider making lunch the main meal of the day, and start with an appetizer like the Kra-Tong Thong. These crispy, golden pastry cups are filled with chicken, vegetables, and sweet corn with a bit of yellow curry, and are a perfect, light beginning to your midday meal. Other popular starters include the traditional Tom Yum Soup, with complex spicy-sour flavors and fresh lemongrass, and the soul-warming Steamed Dumplings, stuffed with ground chicken breast, peanuts, and turnips, with a hint of coconut milk.
The Green Papaya Salad is a meal itself, packed with crunchy strands of papaya and vegetables in a light lime dressing, topped with grilled shrimp and served with a side of sticky rice. It packs a little heat, too, with the addition of Thai chili. Don’t like your food fiery? Everything on the menu can be adjusted with a one (for mild-mannered palettes) to five (for those who like scorching) heat level. Even their traditionally spicy dishes can be toned down; just ask.
Vegetarians and those on a gluten free diet will find plenty of choices. About 15 dishes are marked gluten free and the menu devotes a section to tofu and vegetable-only meals, including the sinus-clearing Volcano Tofu with vegetables swimming in a hot chili sauce and Jay Drunken Noodle with peppers, bamboo shoots, carrots, broccoli, and basil leaves.
The restaurant offers a traditional mix and match approach to many of its dishes, expanding the options and catering to all tastes. You’ll have a choice of protein including fried or steamed tofu, chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, squid, scallop, soy nuggets, and duck. After selecting your protein, you can then pick a preparation. The Broccoli has carrots, asparagus, and mushrooms in a garlic sauce and Fresh Ginger has mushrooms, peppers, onions, and celery in a black bean sauce. But we’re partial to the Basil Leaves, a spicy, bold traditional Thai brown sauce with basil, chili, garlic, onions, and mushrooms.
Pad Thai, with peanuts, scallions, and bean sprouts, is their biggest selling item and it also comes with your choice of protein. The Deluxe Pad Thai is a flavor explosion, packing a little heat and loaded with chicken, tofu, shrimp, and egg. If we’re going for noodles, however, we nearly always order the hot Pad Khee-Mao, with fat, soft rice noodles in a nicely balanced chili-garlic sauce. It strikes all the complex sweet and spicy notes.
Spicy, sour, salty, and sweet, the four tastes of authentic Thai food, are showcased in the chef’s specials, too. The hot Three Flavored Seafood is an exotic medley of fresh battered shrimp, scallops, squid, and haddock in an ultra-flavorful sweet and spicy sauce. The Moo Yang is also one of our favorites, featuring marinated and grilled pork loin served with a tangy hot tamarind dipping sauce. Or the pungent Curry Duck, with a house-made, coconut-based red curry sauce with fresh pineapple chunks, peppers, and tomatoes. There are so many choices, but our go-to dish is often the crave-worthy Spicy Crispy Duck, a roasted half duck topped with mushrooms, peppers, and onions in an intricate basil and chili-garlic sauce. We order it ripping hot with a glass of Thai Ice Tea.
In addition to the almost overwhelming standard menu, the chef often prepares daily specials. Last time we dined here, we went for the daily special Crispy Crab, a plate of delicately battered and lightly fried morsels of just-caught, ultra-fresh crab. It’s the best we’ve had this side of Phuket.The service is fast and friendly, and even those pressed for time can dine here for an hour, on-the-go lunch, without sacrificing quality and flavor. But, if you really can’t tear yourself away from the office, there’s good news: 5 Thai offers takeout and delivery, too.
5 Thai Bistro
40 Pleasant Street