This part of Elmhurst has some big players. Chao Thai, right in the shadow of the Long Island Railroad tracks, plays host to some excellent Thai food. There's solid Vietnamese to be found at Pho Bang across the street, and Taste Good around the corner continues to serve up bowls of Malaysian laksa to hungry crowds, even if the food's only a fraction as good as it used to be.
All the while, Nusara Thai Kitchen has been quietly humming along next to the big dogs, receiving the occasional review but generally keeping under the radar. It goes to show the embarrassment of edible riches we have in Queens, because if this restaurant were anywhere else, it'd be a beloved neighborhood spot with a vocal following.
In Elmhurst it's merely another good Thai restaurant that the locals largely keep to themselves. But the menu differs enough from its neighbors—Chao Thai across the street, Ayada a short walk away—that it's worth a visit on its own.
You won't find Sun-Soaked Pork Strips ($7) at most Thai restaurants. Here the thin slices of fish sauce-marinated pork are dried to a quasi-jerky state, then served with a sweet-tart dipping sauce that makes them disappear fast. Beer makes them disappear even faster.
Most Thai spots also won't give you the option to order your Som Tum ($7.95) Lao-style, with eggplant and anchovy joining well-pounded papaya. The extra fishy funk is worth an order, one of the few things that can stand up to the unrepentant heat the salad delivers. Seriously: ask for something spicy and you'll get it. Consider demurring for something more tame to taste the rest of your meal all the better.
To give your tongue a rest, try the Crispy Pork with Chinese Broccoli ($10.95), which takes the form of a mucilaginous soup rather than a thin stir fry. Its gloopy appearance doesn't inspire much confidence, but its flavor does—a gentle, soothing broth accented by oyster sauce, full of just-tender greens and abundant fatty pork. Much of the pork is freshly fried skin, which makes an airy, crunchy counterpoint to the soup.
Only the Yum Nam ($8.95) disappointed, and let's be honest, Thai sausage dishes in New York usually do. The thin slices of waxy sausage, raw onion, and wickedly hot lime dressing just don't add up to much beyond the sum of their parts.
But overall, the cooking at Nusara leaves a favorable impression. It may not have the name recognition of its neighbors, but anywhere other than here and that wouldn't matter one bit.