After looking at stuffed dead animals at the Vancouver Museum, we walked a few blocks up to 4th Avenue. Maenam has been on our radar for a little while, ever since it opened with a rave review from the Georgia Straight. I was excited to try authentic Thai flavours, as the Vancouver scene is a little lacking in stellar Thai restaurants. As I’ve mentioned before, I was born in Thailand and grew up there before immigrating to Canada when I was a child. Our family never went to Thai restaurants when I was growing up, because the food was so bad. But from my mom’s cooking and a couple of long trips back to Thailand as an adult, I declare Thai food to be my favourite cuisine ever. Like you know how sometimes someone asks you if you could choose only one type of cuisine to eat for the rest of your life? Well, for me it’d be Thai food, hands down. There is a freshness, flavour and depth to Thai food which I’ve never found anywhere else. And for me it was only in Thailand that you can get that kind of flavour (ok, there was this restaurant in San Francisco....). So we went to Maenam hoping, hoping this would be IT.

Maenam is right in the heart of Kitsilano on 4th avenue, between the tree streets Cypress and Maple. The restaurant inside is modern and clutter-free, with sage green walls, grass wall feature, and warm wood floors. There is a row of banquette seating along one mirrored wall, and a few tables near the window and in the middle of the room; there are seats for about 35 people, upon estimation. One thing that struck me was the restaurant’s beautifully shiny cork tables, which had a really beautiful organic swirly pattern.

We arrived as soon as they opened, and were the only customers for a while (it was also one of those horribly rainy and wet Saturdays).

We asked if the restaurant had Thai iced tea (a deliciously sweet and bright orange concoction of strong tea, evaporated milk and sugar that’s sold everywhere in Thailand), but they didn’t, so we just settled for water and a regular tea. The lunch/late night menu is small, with small plates at $8, and larger plates $12-14 . We decided to share a few plates.

This is the green papaya salad or som dtam ($8), and I was really excited when this arrived. It looked fabulous, with crunchy shreds of green papaya, carrot, pieces of long bean, tomatoes, all topped with peanuts and dried shrimp. It looked like the real thing. However, tasting it was a disappointment, because the salad was so mild. It was overly sweet, and normally with a good som dtam you'd get really pungent, strong, assertive lime, fish sauce, chili, and garlic flavours--like every bite would knock you out. This was so diluted, so pale, so felt definitely like the dish was 'dumbed down'.

Next we shared the Fried Rice with Sausage ($12), which came generously piled on a large plate. I was excited and amazed at this dish. The Thai sausage (Naam) that is featured here is amazing, and so incredibly true to the what they have in Thailand. In Thailand, Naam is really popular, and it is basically a seasoned pork that is left to ferment until it acquires a pleasing sour flavour. This sausage is a little unusual in that it is very dense and dry in texture, so I imagine this might need some getting used to. But for me, it was so familiar and so good. It went with the fried rice really well, which was seasoned with a slightly sweet soy based sauce. Also served with the fried rice, as is the custom in Thailand, is the nahm jim dipping sauce, which is basically lime, fish sauce, garlic and fresh chili. The nahm jim is wonderful, sour, salty and strong, exactly like what you'd find in Thailand.

We also shared the Muslim Oxtail Soup ($14). This soup was pretty good, with a nice warm heat to it from the dried chili. The pieces of beef from the Oxtail were delicious and tender. It was good with a scoop or two of white rice. Athough it was a good dish, I would have prefered the flavours to be a little stronger. However, this was enjoyable and perfect on a rainy day.

The fried rice and the soup were both enormous, so we were both really full. But we couldn't resist sampling a dessert. We decided on rice donuts with Thai iced tea ice cream ($7), which sounded the most interesting. The donuts were soft and fluffy, but unfortunately, the thick coating of sugar obscured any flavour the rice flour would have given to the donut. It tasted like your usual donut, except a little softer in texture. However, the standout was the ice cream, which tasted exactly like the Thai iced tea you'd get back on the streets of Thailand. Even though it arrived either not frozen enough or partially melted, the taste was amazing. It had a spectacular Thai iced tea (Cha Yen) flavour. Yum, yum, yum!

So in the end it was an experience filled with really high highs and low lows. I'm looking forward to the future of this restaurant though, because if they can bring in more authentic Thai dishes instead of the usual fare (or at least do the usual stuff really, really well), this place would have a spectacular future to be at the forefront of the Thai restaurant scene.

We would definitely come back here, no question, to see what else they have on the menu.

Maenam on Urbanspoon


  1. I believe the chef is not Thai (according to their website), and it's not a Thai owned restaurant. I think that's why the taste is not up to par. While it looks good, and may taste great to some people. It missing that strong flavour Thai food have.

    The 'nahm jim dipping sauce' isn't the right name. In Thai, Nahm jim translate to dipping sauce already. So they are calling this sauce 'dipping sauce dipping sauce' which is weird.

    The more appropriate name would be 'Prik Num Pla' (PRIK mean chilli, NUM PLA mean fish sauce) which commonly consist of chilli and fish sauce, and sometime with lime and garlic as well.

    The oxtail looks good though, I'll def. give it a try.

  2. Thanks for your comment! Yes, the chef is not Thai, but his wife is, and they both apparently trained under David Thompson, the big Thai food guy. I would definitely say that Maenam is one of the most authentic Thai places in Vancouver, but they have definitely adjusted the Thai flavours for North American tastes (which I don't agree with!). But maybe it's a good strategy considering what most people think Thai flavours are.... Would definitely like to see what you and others think about this place, especially those with a Thai background. Cheers!