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This Is the Pad Thai Recipe You Need for Your Better-Than-Takeout Repertoire

This one will blow “meh” takeout and frozen entrees out of the water.

The Washington Post - Becky Krystal -- Source - by Stacy Zarin Goldberg for The Washington Post; food styling by Lisa Cherkasky for The Washington Post

I’ve never met a noodle I didn’t like, but the rice noodles in pad thai I love the most.

First, there’s that texture: Springy but pliable, and soft but not mushy. Then, the sauce that coats them: Salty, sour and sweet. The combination is hard to top.

For those reasons and more, pad thai is a popular takeout staple. In our house, especially when we’re eating with a group, it’s part of every order from our favorite local spot. But having made this recipe several times, I can tell you that — surprise! — there is no magical power imparted by the plastic carryout container. You, yes YOU, can make pad thai that tastes exactly like what you’d get from a restaurant. (Check out this piece from Gastronomica on the history of pad thai, which only came into being as a Thai national dish in the 1930s, even though it shares a lot in common with Chinese cuisine. It remains more of a street food than a home-cooked staple there.)

Given how popular her Spicy Lemongrass Soup (Tom Yum Gai) was with readers, I naturally turned to chef-owner Nongkran Daks of Thai Basil in Chantilly, Va. Daks rode her pad thai recipe to fame in 2009, when she beat chef and TV host Bobby Flay in a battle on his good-natured “Throwdown” series. Flay didn’t do himself any favors by using (gasp) mint and soy sauce in his version, though you’d still be hard-pressed to find a better rendition than Daks’s.

Daks, a Thai native, has stayed true to the spirit of the original, using such ingredients as dried shrimp, preserved radish and palm sugar. We also added tiny matchsticks of bright red pressed tofu, which is also typical. All those will probably require a trip to an Asian market or an online purchase. If the specialty Asian ingredients are hard to come by, fear not. We tested the recipe without them, substituting brown sugar for the palm sugar, too. While the flavor wasn’t quite as well-rounded in savory depth, it was still good, and probably loads better than a lot of what you find in to-go boxes. I do, however, suggest you make your own tamarind juice (3 tablespoons of tamarind pulp soaked in warm water for 20 minutes and then strained), Daks’s preferred method, or spring for tamarind concentrate. (Tamarind pulp is available at Indian markets, if that’s more convenient.) Look for the prepared Thai tamarind concentrate that is often sold in a large jar. It’s closer to reddish brown in color and more pourable than the thicker black product also labeled as tamarind concentrate more often found at Indian markets. I tested the dish with the juice and the concentrate, and the results were the same. The tamarind not only lends the dish its appealing color, but its unmistakable tart and sweet base.

Shrimp, eggs, bean sprouts and roasted peanuts are all classic ingredients that fill out the dish in flavor and heft. If your friends and family are anything like my co-workers, you’ll be fighting them off for every last bite. We liked serving the pad thai on a giant platter for maximum visual impact, but if you feel like something is still missing compared to your standard restaurant order, I’m sure you’ve got a few carryout containers hanging around.

Recipe notes: You will have extra pad thai sauce (enough for three more batches), which Daks recommends making a day in advance. It can be stored in the refrigerator or freezer for several months. The rice noodles need to soak in cold water at room temperature for an hour.

This recipe is spicier than your typical pad thai. Feel free to adjust or omit the red pepper flakes as necessary.

For a vegetarian version, substitute soy sauce for the fish sauce, and use 1/2 cup of diced tofu instead of the shrimp. If you prefer pork, substitute 1 cup of thinly sliced lean meat for the shrimp.

Pad Thai With Shrimp Recipe

Active time: 45 mins | Total time: 1 hour 45 mins | Servings: 2 to 3


  • 1 cup tamarind juice or concentrate (see headnote)
  • 1 cup palm sugar (may substitute light brown sugar)
  • 1 cup water
  • 1/2 cup fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 4 ounces medium-width dried rice noodles (about 1/8 inch)
  • 4 to 5 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic
  • 8 fresh or frozen/defrosted shrimp (21- to 25-count), deveined; peeled with tails on, if desired
  • 1 tablespoon dried shrimp, finely chopped (optional; see headnote)
  • 1 tablespoon sweet preserved radish (see headnote)
  • 3 1/2 ounces red pressed tofu, sliced thin into 1/2-inch-long pieces (see headnote; optional)
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (see headnote)
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped roasted unsalted peanuts (about 1/2 ounce)
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions or garlic chives
  • 2 cups fresh bean sprouts, rinsed and drained
  • Lime wedges, for serving

Step 1

For the sauce: Combine the tamarind concentrate, palm sugar, water, fish sauce and salt in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 1 hour, until the mixture is syrupy and darker in color. As it reduces, you may need to further reduce the heat to low to prevent it from scorching.

Step 2

Meanwhile, start the noodles for the dish: Place them in a bowl and cover with cold water; soak for 1 hour (at room temperature).

Step 3

Heat 4 tablespoons of the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and stir-fry just until golden brown. Add the fresh/defrosted shrimp, stirring constantly until they are opaque and just cooked through, for 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate (the garlic stays in the pan).

Step 4

Drain the noodles well, then add them to the same skillet you used to cook the shrimp. They will try to stick together, so separate them as you stir, adding a splash or two of water. Then add 5 tablespoons of the pad thai sauce, stirring until everything is thoroughly incorporated. The noodles should be soft and moist. Add the dried shrimp, if using, the preserved radish and the pressed tofu, if using. Return the cooked shrimp to the skillet and toss to incorporate.

Step 5

Use a spatula to clear a space at the center of the pan for frying the eggs. If the pan seems dry, add the remaining tablespoon of oil. Pour in the eggs, then use the spatula to cover them with the noodles in the pan. Once the eggs are set, stir the noodles until everything is well mixed. This should result in cooked bits of eggs, both whites and yolk, throughout the noodle mixture.

Step 6

Add the crushed red pepper flakes (to taste), peanuts, scallions or garlic chives and half the bean sprouts. Toss to incorporate and just heat through, then transfer to a platter. Serve right away, with the remaining bean sprouts and the lime wedges.

Adapted from Nongkran Daks, chef-owner of Thai Basil in Chantilly, Va.

Tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to

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