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New York's not in any danger yet of becoming oversaturated with Isan-style Thai restaurants the way it was oversaturated with too many gloppy-pad-thai-and-cashew-chicken spots a few years ago (some would argue that even one such restaurant is an oversaturation), but they're sure becoming more and more prevalent. For lovers of the sticky rice and spicy salad-heavy cuisine, this is a good thing. Since Somtum Der opened a couple months ago, I've been in four times and have tried a good chunk of the menu. Here are my thoughts on the best dishes and what to avoid.
Ratchanee Sumpatboon puts some serious flavor into her regional Isan Thai cuisine at Larb Ubol. We sat down to discuss how she does it.
Skip the appetizers here, folks, and head straight for that noodle section.
For over ten years, Nusara Thai Kitchen has quietly hummed along while some of its neighbors have received citywide esteem. 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.
The East Village restaurant bills itself as "modern Thai comfort food," and while there are the obvious menu items—noodles and curries—there are also some unexpected additions—such as a hamburger and chicken and waffles—that might not seem all the Thai, but who are we to judge?
If Am Thai were to streamline some of its vegetarian options— leaving out the unnecessary veg and perhaps even the obligatory-seeming fried tofu chunks—it could be a great neighborhood joint. As it is, the restaurant offers a plethora of interesting meat-free dishes, so it's still a worthwhile destination if you live nearby.
By my estimation, Ninth Avenue is home to a couple dozen Thai restaurants between 55th and 30th Streets. And with an exception or two, they're all pretty crummy. But with the arrival of Larb Ubol that might be changing.
Sweet Chili is owned by Chef Lisa Fernandes, who you may remember from Top Chef's Season 4 in Chicago. The truck debuted on June 1st with a menu inspired by Thai and Vietnamese cooking. Take a closer look at this Vendy Awards nominee is cooking after the jump.
For those who like their greens a little more battered and fried, and maybe topped with chicken and cuttlefish for good measure, Ayada's worth a visit.
I haven't had a bad bite at Larb Ubol, a new Thai spot on 9th Avenue with the former chef of Zabb Elee running the kitchen, but this blew everything else away.
I've got to admit it: I did not like Uncle Boons the first time I went. At least, I thought I didn't. The staff was friendly as could be, the space was fun, I even made friends with some folks at the bar, but the food just seemed... off to me.
Things started fine with a Lon Jai ($10), a Thai version of a michelada that looks like a glass of sriracha with a peppered rim. The cold Singha beer bubbles up through the hot sauce and then—what's that?—coriander wafts up to your nose along with something more mysterious and musky. "It's salted pickled lime juice," the bartender tells me, as he puts a plate of their chopped lamb salad in front of me. Laab Neuh Gae ($14) comes on strong out of the gate, with an unmistakable lamb-y aroma and richness that makes you wonder, is lamb really the best choice for laab? It tasted heavy, fatty, not refreshing, until... wait a minute... Okay, suddenly I got it. Those slices of cucumber and pickled onion aren't just garnishes—their bracing sourness allows you to focus on the flavor of the lamb, not the fat. The dish, surprisingly, worked.
Popping out of the 74th Street-Broadway station in Jackson Heights, chef Andy Ricker of Pok Pok was ready to take us on a Thai market tour around the neighborhood. We traipsed up and down the aisles of a few markets specializing in Thai products as he pointed out the ones he likes (frozen coconut milk) and those he really doesn't care for (canned curry pastes; "don't ever buy them, please.").
Reserve bills itself as the city's only Thai wine bar. More than 15 wines are served by the glass, all meant to "compliment or challenge" the Thai flavors. While some of the dishes might be familiar from your regular go-to place, overall Reserve doesn't want to be your standard Thai takeout joint.
Williamsburg has a new neighborhood Thai restaurant with some surprising players: dessert star Pichet Ong and Sripraphai of the celebrated eponymous restaurant in Queens.
Rhong-Tiam's roti and noodles are the main draw to this Gramercy Thai favorite, but if you're looking for a way to bulk up your order, yuca fries are a worthy addition.
Though it's not the main event at Pok Pok Phat Thai, the kuaytiaw khua kai ($10), crusty rice noodles with chicken and cuttlefish, is one of the best noodle dishes I've had in months.
Word got out quickly when Greenpoint favorite No Name Bar started "secretly" serving ramen noodles out of a tiny basement kitchen earlier this year. Now the still-nameless bar has swapped out its ramen menu for a Thai one created by a spunky woman named Nam, who also runs Am Thai Bistro in Flatbush.
I really like the flat, not-too-sweet pad kee mao at Ploy Thai in Elmhurst, for two specific reasons. But are those reasons good enough? And are they the right reasons in the first place?
Sometimes the act of frying something completely transforms it into something new. That's the case with the Catfish Salad ($11.95) at Chao Thai, where the fried catfish is barely recognizable as such.