Dallas' 50 Most Interesting Restaurants, No. 16: Pakpao

Catherine Downes
Some seriously spicy red curry.
Leading up to our annual Best of Dallas® issue, we're counting down the 50 most interesting restaurants in Dallas. These spots bring something unique or compelling to the city's dining scene, feeding both your appetite and soul. Find more interesting places on our all-new Best Of app for iTunes or Android.

Nothing is harder on the Dallas dinning scene than restaurant owners who pander to their own perception. Walk into most gussied up Thai or Vietnamese restaurants and ask why their pho or other dishes are missing tripe and ingredients with grit, and you'll often hear "our customers wouldn't eat that." They think that because Dallasites have never enjoyed organ meats they'll end up spoiling in the walk-in. That's why menus continue to evolve at a deep-fried snail's pace.

If customers are never exposed to anything new, their palates will never grow. That's why dishes like Pakpao's jeo pla pao are so important. The restaurant may not sell as much of this fish paste as they do the pad Thai, but the dish is there for those who are curious.

And apparently customers have been curious enough. The dish amounts to little more to roasted mackerel and seasoning in a blender. It has the appearance of loose, wet and gritty clay and smells intensely of fish. Despite what might seem like a challenge to consume, the dish is delicious, and it continues to sell sufficiently to remain on the menu.

There are other way Pakpao declines to pander. Dishes whose recipes call for lots of chili get just that. You won't find mild versions of spicy dishes to lull you into a snooze of a meal. There are plenty of mild dishes to choose from, but if a dish is inherently spicy then that's how it's served. There are curries that are capable of making your body sweat at Pakpao. Those dishes are selling, too.

Sure, there are customers who won't embrace a restaurant's attempt at authenticity, but there's a growing crowd of food enthusiasts who are getting bored. Pakpao is one of a handful of restaurants that are more than willing to cater to them, and their dining room is often full.

No. 50: Joyce and Gigi's
No. 49: East Hampton Sandwich Co.
No. 48: 20 Feet Seafood Joint
No. 47: Taj Chaat House
No. 46: Mot Hai Ba
No. 45: La Nueva Fresh and Hot
No. 44: Pera Turkish Kitchen
No. 43: Tom's Burgers and Grill
No. 42: Mughlai
No. 41: Russian Banya
No. 40: Off-Site Kitchen
No. 39: Bachman Lake Taqueria
No. 38: Carbone's
No. 37: Babe's
No. 36: Barbacoa Estilo Hidalgo
No. 35: Zaguan
No. 34: Royal Sichuan
No. 33: Spoon
No. 32: Bambu
No. 31: Pecan Lodge
No. 30: FT33
No. 29: Keller's Drive-In
No. 28: La Pasadita
No. 27: Ten Bells Tavern
No. 26: El Ranchito
No. 25: Cafe Urbano
No. 24: Nova
No. 23: Jeng Chi
No. 22: Omi
No. 21: Tei-An
No. 20: Jonathon's Oak Cliff
No. 19: Yutaka and Sharaku
No. 18: Local
No. 17: Ibex

Location Info

Pakpao Thai Food

1628 Oak Lawn Ave., Dallas, TX

Category: Restaurant

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My Voice Nation Help

It's always give & take. A restaurant exists to be profitable and if no one is ordering what you're offering why even have it as an option?I love fatty beef in my pho. Not every pho place has it, for good reason because Americans HATE fat yet will pile their plate with processed crap and French fries.

mavdog topcommenter

By far the best Thai in town. The shortrib is excellent, the crispy catfish is for those who can take a bit of heat. Prices are very reasonable.

speaking of heat, it would be a good idea for a couple of additional HVAC units to be installed as it is always a tad warm in the restaurant.


@mavdog Thanks for the warning about the A/C. I was thinking about trying this place this weekend - heard so many good things - but for my 37-weeks pregnant wife, a "tad" warm is too warm. May have to wait 'til after, but definitely keeping this place on the list.

scott.reitz moderator

@Gipson @mavdog I have no idea what 37 weeks pregnant feels like so I won't offer advice on the temperature, but you could always bring her takeout. That red curry could even induce labor if you're down to the wire. You'd be a hero.

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