Thai food is pretty ubiquitous in New York City, and it remains a hotly debated topic amongst us city dwellers (in true New York form… since everything, really, is a hotly debated topic). I think we can all agree that Queens is still pretty much the Thai motherland of cheapest and most authentic Thai food, from Sripraphai to Zabb Queens. But what about on the mainland? Well, we've got Zabb Elee, sister restaurant of Zabb Queens--the original location.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, if my grandmother were to open up a restaurant, this would be it. This Isan (Northeast Thailand) Thai spot has a comprehensive menu that will impress anyone that knows their Thai food… or anyone that knows Thai--the names of the dishes are enough to scare you away, but don't fret, the English descriptions included will give you an idea of what is to come.
From Tod to Toam to Larb to Som Tum (Still following? It's okay, just go with it--it's worth it), the dishes are superbly authentic with the typical acidic, pungent, spicy flavors of Northeast Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. There are several varieties of the popular Larb dish, from chicken to beef to duck, and even catfish. This cold minced-meat dish has strong flavors of fish sauce, mint, lime and powdered roasted rice. Som Tum, or green papaya salad, is another popular dish, not for the faint of heart, as it contains fermented fish sauce. Finally, you can't have a meal here without one of the stews, or Gang. Gang Som is a favorite, a sour, spicy, flavorful concoction with bamboo and shrimp.
And then there's mok, my personal favorite, a steamed curry custard-y fish wrapped in banana leaves. Zabb Elee makes theirs similarly to my grandmother's recipe. It's a must-try. In true Southeast Asian style, all dishes are best eaten with sticky rice… and, with your hands.
Be prepared for robust and pungent bites with enough spice to make you take more than a few sips of of your Beerlao. And, if you're looking for Pad Thai or Mee Krop, this is not the place. Strong stomachs and adventurous palettes recommended.
75 2nd Avenue
New York, NY 10003
Hungry for more? Catch the "global perfection" episode of "1st Look" Saturday after "Saturday Night Live" on NBC for more international bites!