Best Of 2021

Best Thai: Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai owner Su Hill.
When Su Hill was a little girl growing up in northern Thailand, she hated her mother’s lessons in traditional Thai cuisine. Trained in the domestic arts in Thailand’s Grand Palace, Hill’s mother would spend hours painstakingly preparing food, from picking herbs from her garden to grinding spices to dicing vegetables and then dicing them again. Hill thought she wanted nothing to do with such drudgery, but after her mother’s death a few years ago, she understood that the best way she could continue to feel her presence around her was if she cooked her food. That sense of longing and sense of duty to share her mother’s story with the world, plus Hill’s years of experience in the restaurant business here in the U.S., have converged to bring to life Chiang Mai (8158 Big Bend Boulevard, Webster Groves; 314-961-8889), an awe-inspiring experience that offers one of the city’s most memorable dining experiences, regardless of the cuisine. Chiang Mai is unlike any other Thai restaurant in town with dishes that showcase the flavors of the country’s northern region. Though nothing fails to impress at this gem of a restaurant, the gaeng hung lay, a braised pork masterpiece so tender you could spread it on a roll, is particularly noteworthy — not simply because it’s delicious, but because it’s the most poignant example of Hill’s connection to her mother. Made with the same ingredients using exactly the same technique as her mom, Hill manages to bring to life a delicious dish, yes, but more importantly a profound moment of intimacy that we are privileged to witness. —Cheryl Baehr

Previous Winners