Pongsri Thai Restaurant
244 West 48th Street, New York, NY 10036 (between Broadway and 8th Avenue; map); 212-582-3392; pongsri.com
Kids' Amenities: High chairs
Best Dishes for Kids: Thai Fried Rice and Pad Thai
Cost: Appetizers $4.95-14.95, Entrees $8.95-24.95, Desserts $3-5
Lunch in Midtown is a challenge in so many ways—time is limited, good eats may be scarce, and service is by necessity rushed and harried. While lunch at Pongsri Thai Restaurant on West 48th Street is not exactly a relaxing experience, the restaurant's wonderful food and attentive service make it, against all odds, a delightful place to go have a family lunch.
We met for lunch just before the flood of customers at noon and were sat a nice, comfortable table by the window. Pongsri has a good selection of lunch specials, but you may also order from the extensive dinner menu at any time.
Most kids balk at some ethnic cuisine dishes because of hot spices, and this is particularly disheartening to spice-loving parents who crave a little heat. Yet one can generally find something on the menu that will be agreeable to mild palates and it is always a great idea to ask a manager or waiter for a recommendation. I always ask them what kids like to eat in their countries and they are usually happy to oblige with enthusiastic guidance.
On a recent visit, we were advised to order Thai-Style Fried Rice ($6.95), which, according to the manager, was in her son's lunch box every day from kindergarten to the end of high school. We thus ordered the pork version, and the dish was a success. The fried rice and pork were enrobed in eggs and the spices were subtle, almost sweet, making it a real winner with my daughter. My husband and I both loved it too, but thought it best to leave most of it for her.
Likewise, the mainstay Chicken Pad Thai ($6.95) was touted as especially child-friendly, and although my husband and I had had pad thai innumerable times, we were somewhat surprised at the generational versatility of the dish. The rice noodles are tender, the bean sprouts are crunchy, and the peanuts, in little chopped pieces give this dish its unmistakable taste. Eggs, like in the fried rice, bind not so much the ingredients but rather the flavors.
My husband and I have long been partial to Pongsri's Chu-Chee Chicken ($12.95) at Pongsri. Chu-Chee Chicken is basically two breaded, crispy chicken cutlets, cut up and topped with Chu-Chee curry—not a curry you find in every Thai restaurant, in my experience. It has a red Thai curry base, but its heavy creaminess, derived from coconut milk, pushes it pretty close to a Panang curry; lime leaves have a lightening effect. It's a medium spicy dish (not on the lunch specials menu), and even my daughter tried some lightly sauced pieces of the chicken and loved it.
At the end of the meal we fought over a great star-shaped Coconut Sticky Rice Cake with Mangoes ($4.95). The sticky rice cake was subtly sweet, and the coconut milk atop, slightly salty, provided a nice counterbalance. The mangoes were perfectly sweet.
By the time we left the restaurant was full of casual Friday-clad young finance and consulting types, and there was a line of customers waiting to be seated. We were pleased and almost surprised to find that eating lunch in Midtown with a child is not that hard, if you come slightly off rush hours. Pongsri Thai food is a great choice for such an outing because, beyond a courteous and accommodating staff, its well-priced menu is ready to please both parents' and children's palates.
About the author: Aya Tanaka teaches French literature and critical thinking in and around New York, and takes every opportunity to introduce her daughter to new tastes, at home and in restaurants. She chronicles her outings on high chair ny when time permits.