38 Mcilwraith Pl
Melbourne, VIC 3000
Sydney may historically have had better Thai food than Melbourne, but not anymore. Because Soi 38 is not just Sydney good, it’s Thailand good. What initially started as a boat noodle pop-up almost 10 years ago has evolved to become widely regarded as the most authentic Thai restaurant in Melbourne, and its spartan yet energetic carpark location does nothing but bolster its cred. And truly – this is the most bona fide experience I’ve had since my trip to Thailand almost 5 years ago. Dining here is packed with so much flavour and fun – I cannot recommend it enough.
Rating: 14.5/20 – authentic thailand.
Must-order: papaya salad. they have about 8 different styles, and you can pick the level of spice.
Good to know: you can BYO here, and there’s a tiny little bottle shop just across the street (also in the parking lot).
I had to have The Ultimate Bowl ($35), because who can go past an entire pot of basic bitch instant noodles cooked in tom yum soup? But it’s not all simple pleasures here; the broth sings with complexity, its aroma complete with just the right amount of tang and spice, whilst the noodles are made sumptuous by the additions of prawn, crispy pork belly, and the plumpest most sweet scallops I’ve ever had.
The Tum Thai Khai Kem ($15) is another source of joy, the classic papaya salad seasoned effortlessly with just the right balance of sweet, sour, salty, and spicy. The chewy dried shrimp adds a layer of more robust pungency to the fish sauce, whilst the salted egg fragments just beg for this dish to be paired with sticky rice. If I had any complaints, it would be that the green papaya is a little tough and stringy in places, but hey – can’t be a choosy beggar.
The Moo Ping ($15, 4pcs) is arguably the only disappointment of the night. Not that it was bad, and I appreciated the generous portion size, but it just didn’t have the smoky punch of flavour I had expected.
To combat the heat, there’s a few beers on offer, as well as a Coconut Juice ($6) that is exactly the kind you can get at Asian grocers. More interestingly, they also make their own Thai Milk Tea ($5), which is strong, sweet, and exactly the shade of orange I had become used to whilst on holiday in Thailand.