A tiny restaurant with big (and at times extremely spicy) flavors
You know that famous Mark Twain quote, “If you don’t like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes”? Well, he didn’t exactly say that, but that’s another story for another day. The quote, however, can be used in a slightly different way to characterize the Arlington food scene, as in you don’t (or do) think much of it, but wait a bit and it’ll change.
Over the past several decades, Arlington has gone from being a town of sub shops and pizza joints to a town of interesting restaurants back to a town full of sub shops and pizza joints and back again, and in between, the town has sometimes had the scourge of lots of empty storefronts just waiting to be filled by new dining spots. The restaurant scene in this northwest suburb of Boston continues to change these days, and whether it’s for the better or for the worse pretty much depends on the person you’re talking to at the time. But there are some constants in town, including Jimmy’s Steer House, which has been around forever and which continues to serve up solid old-school dishes at moderate prices, and a handful of other spots that have stood the test of time (and in many cases, increasing rents), with one of the better ones being Thai Moon, an unassuming little eatery that’s virtually unknown outside of the immediate area but which has its fair share of followers who live nearby.
Arlington is one of the few good-sized towns you’ll find that doesn’t have a mall or a shopping center, so as you might expect, most of the businesses are quite small in size, and Thai Moon is about as small as you can get and still be a full-service restaurant. The interior is a bit less bare bones than when it first opened years ago, and with an ownership change earlier in the decade and upgrades to its dining area, the restaurant has while not quite a romantic feel to it, a little more of a cozy charm than before that makes it a fine place for a date. The lack of indoor space and the fact that there’s a municipal parking lot behind it—and 15 minutes of free parking along the street—helps make Thai Moon a popular spot for takeout, and much of its business is indeed of the to-go variety, though in the end, it feels like more of a true sit-down restaurant because of the updates to the space.
For some diners, Thai food begins and ends with pad Thai, and while there is so much more to Thai cuisine than this dish, it’s often what brings people to Thai Moon and other similar spots. You would think that a seemingly simple comfort food dish such as this one would pretty much be the same from place to place, but it isn’t, as some versions can be bland or have an unpleasant taste because the ingredients aren’t balanced correctly, but Thai Moon’s has been—and continues to be—one of the best northwest of Boston. The standard pad Thai has a perfect mix of sweet, sour, and salty flavors, and you can get it with shrimp, chicken, or both, or as a vegetarian version with or without tofu, all of which are solid choices.
There’s plenty more at Thai Moon than just pad Thai, of course, including pork and veggie dumplings that can be ordered steamed or deep-fried (the fried ones can be a little dried out, so steamed may be the route to go); savory Thai pancakes that are made with rice and stuffed with scallions; a mellow tofu soup with chicken; a slightly spicy tom yum soup with lemongrass; a fiery hot chicken basil fried rice dish that can be toned down slightly if you ask in advance; drunken noodles (also known as noodles kee mao), which have the type of heat that can really sneak up on you; a mild massaman curry with sweet potatoes; and a wonderful version of country-style noodles, which is a good option if you love the taste of pad Thai but prefer wide, flat noodles instead.
Some specialty Thai dishes are also offered at Thai Moon, including a chili fish with tamarind sauce, shrimp in a pot with glass noodles, a deep-fried half duck with peanut sauce, and a stir-fried haddock with basil. Prices are pretty moderate, with most dinners costing between $10 and $20, and service is what you’d expect at a tiny family-run spot—low-key and friendly.
It seems like ever since Thai Moon opened more than 15 years ago, there has been chatter among locals that it wasn’t going to make it and that it was always about to close, but the place remains open and appears to be doing pretty well, which can’t be said for some other places in Arlington, as the town’s dining scene seems to be in constant flux. It might not be the biggest or best dining spot in the northwest suburbs, but Thai Moon continues to be a consistently good restaurant that just keeps on puttering along.
THAI MOON. 663 MASS. AVE., ARLINGTON. THAIMOONARLINGTON.COM