Larb Moo Krob ($10)
The namesake larb at Larb Ubol may not take the city's top honors—it could use the searing heat of Kin Shop's duck, the moody spices you find at Pok Pok, or the interplay between citrus and fat that Chao Thai negotiates so gracefully—but I'd hardly call it disappointing.
Pad Ped Moo Krob ($11)
Slices of fried fatty pork jumbled with a fresh red curry sauce and spherical Thai eggplant two ways: quartered for crunch and sliced thin for tenderness. The gentle sweetness tempered by chilies, green peppercorns, and ginger hit in layers, a tongue-searing dish that rewards contemplation.
Som Tum Poo Plara ($10)
The fresh-tasting fruit is cut with the one-two punch of salt-preserved crab and pickled fish. Funky, briny, and, if you ask insist, hellishly hot, it's as far removed from the sugary papaya salads elsewhere on Ninth Avenue that you could hope to find.
Thai Iced Tea ($3)
An especially good Thai iced tea with deep anise flavors and surprisingly restrained sweetness.
Larb Pla Dook ($11)
The shredded catfish is run through with chilies, lime, and coriander, sprinkled with toasted rice powder, and great with beer. (You'll find a liquor store next door.)
Duck Pad Ped ($11)
One of the best value ducks I've seen in some time—the brown sauce is several shades less sweet than the cloying Thai standard, the notes of basil forceful, the skin still crisp beneath its shellack of glaze. You've paid more money for tougher duck; get this one instead.
Pla Rard Prik ($20)
A whole red snapper that's steamed beneath its greaseless crust and loaded with aromatic basil. You could try to be polite and cut it into serving portions, but you're best off picking it apart by hand, feeling for bones as you go, the way fried fish should be eaten. In a lesser Thai restaurant these sweet sauces would overwhelm; here they're tight and complex.
Kor Moo Yang ($11)
Marinated and grilled pork jowl is more crunchy and cartilaginous than succulent.
Nam Tok Nuer ($10)
The steak-like hunks of beef in this dish have a milder heat than the larb, but still a satisfying one.
Kai Yang ($9)
A classic northern Thai dish of mild grilled chicken with a pungent, sour dipping sauce comes out tough and bland.
Sai Krog Isan ($7)
I admire that Sumpatboon is making her own Sai Krog Isan, but the sausage needs more sourness and fermentation; as of now it comes across as just hammy.
Kai Jiaw ($8)
A tender fried omelet dotted by ground pork, pickled garlic, or daikon, its deflated, wrinkled countenance shows how crackly its crust could have been. If you order it (and I think you should), pony up another two bucks to get a mix of ground pork and pickled garlic as your filling—they do well with each other.
There is dessert, but the selections are meager: ice cream, which can be served fried if you long for the mall dessert of your youth, or a coarsely shaved ice loaded with bubblegum-flavored syrup and little else. Skip them and continue to lament the absence of good dessert in this part of New York.
Two words: baggy plaid.
Seriously, don't wear plaid here
Larb Ubol is likely the best Thai on Ninth Avenue, and one of the best current sources for Isan cooking in Manhattan.