Wave Thai is the color of love: pinks and purples, shot through with reds and golds. The palette charges the atmosphere of this Astoria restaurant, elevating its standard, Americanized fare into something more memorable. A concrete floor adds to the spare but sultry effect, as do the jazzy tunes playing over the speakers.
Our first appetizer was a seasonal special. Corn fritters with chicken ($5) tasted like what chicken McNuggets could be, if those simulacra used real vegetables and fowl. However, we felt more than heard their crunch, due to water rushing around one of the many statues of Buddha. Speaking of water, pop into the bathroom to wash your hands: the sink features an oversized shower head (!).
Curry puffs ($4) came out looking like golden samosas, empanadas, or any pastry that's been packed full, then fried. The soft shell crumbled, rather than cracked, revealing a moist mix of ground chicken, pepper, onions, potatoes, and basil, the texture of a soft, nubby blanket. We would drive through for either the fritters or the puffs, both even better when dunked into sriracha or the sweet-sour cucumber relish.
The usual suspects appear on the menu: spring rolls, green papaya salad, a variety of curries (red, green, massaman), a variety of wok preparations (bamboo, garlic sauce, cashew nut), with your choice of meat. This food is fine, of course, and often the first introduction to the country's flavors. At Wave Thai, you'll find nam pla and nam prik, those staple sauces made from fish and chili, respectively. But they'll be doing back-up duty, not performing in the spotlight.
Coconut milk made sticky rice stickier, butterier, sweeter. Golly, it was yummy. A small cone accompanied the tiger cry steak ($14), slices of flank steak along with so-called Thai salsa, pickled onions, peppers, zucchini, and other produce cut to look like minuscule accordions. Was the tiger crying out of sadness, because the meat was overcooked? Or from joy, because it's rare to get palatable steak—and this steak was indeed palatable, despite its relationship with the grill—anywhere for $14? We're not sure.
Buried beneath onions and zucchini, the salmon in the salmon sriracha ($14) also spent too much time lingering near a stove. Although the dish lacked the heat we expected from the name, the sauce was pleasantly, mildly milky, with just a hint of fire. Think of a beloved song, muffled: hard to hear but nevertheless enjoyable.
We might as well say it: devotees of SriPraPhai or Ploy or Ayada will likely be disappointed. At our recent dinner, a table of two asked for the chili vinegar that's available upon request, expertly using chopsticks to swirl in the condiment, while another table forked up pad Thai with beef and compared blog hits and Twitter followers.
These days, calling a restaurant good for its neighborhood somehow seems like an insult, but is it really? Such a statement describes Wave Thai. If you're in Brooklyn, you might not trek out to Astoria to visit, but if you're already in this part of Queens, a meal here would make for a nice evening, especially after the lights go down: the pinks and reds give the place a decidedly mature atmosphere. It's best for: a date near Ditmars.
This post may contain links to Amazon or other partners; your purchases via these links can benefit Serious Eats. Read more about our affiliate linking policy.