Best som tam | Best of Chicago 2011 | Food & Drink | Chicago Reader

Best som tam

TAC Quick

3930 N. Sheridan

Som tam appears on practically every Thai menu, and TAC Quick's rendition of this simple green papaya salad is a reminder why. A five-inch haystack of crisp slivered fruit teetering atop a wedge of green cabbage, it's funky with fish sauce and lively with fresh lime, both of which are mellowed by palm sugar. Flecked with red Thai chile and fortified by raw long bean, roasted peanuts, and chunks of tomato, it's probably too big to finish as an appetizer if you're not sharing, but you'll be tempted to try. Because the salad has marinated in its acidic dressing, a step too many restaurants skip, the complementary flavors—sour, spicy, sweet, salty, fruity—undergo a sort of alchemical fusion, becoming simultaneously less distinct and more powerful. Dipped in that sauce, even the cabbage seems to acquire an extra jolt of peppery bitterness. My favorite thing about TAC Quick's som tam, though, is the generous helping of whole dried salted shrimp. Bright orange and often as big across as nickels, they might seem unpleasantly chewy at first, but work at them for a bit and they release an amazing cascade of pungent, nutty flavors—they're like the aged Gouda of the sea. If you're feeling adventurous, you can get your salad with a small purple brine-fermented crab torn up in it, shell and all—it tastes like being punched in the mouth by low tide. I recommend it! —Philip Montoro

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