The ethnic food in Los Angeles is always excellent, which is why I was especially excited to have lunch at Jitlada, a Thai restaurant in East Hollywood that was a favorite of late food critic Jonathan Gold and was described by Bon Appetit as having the best Thai food in LA and likely the whole country. As we drove through East Hollywood and into the heart of Thai Town, I grew more excited as I saw the colorful, foreign-language signs dot the boulevard. This was going to be an authentic experience with nothing watered down, explosive fireworks of heat and flavors at every turn.Read More
Pad thai is like the green apple martini of Thai food. They’re both very sweet and accessible versions of the food category that they represent. It was one of my first cocktails ever (thanks Sex and the City!), and I thought the Jolly Rancher flavors were amazing, although now they’d make me gag. Same with Thai food, my first exposure to it was through pad thai. The rice noodles were sugary and saucy, and again, I loved it. Most people tend to move on to other things after a few tries, which is probably for the best.Read More
If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen at Ugly Baby, which cranks out some of the spiciest Thai food you will ever eat in New York City. Chef Sirichai Sreparplarn intentionally keeps the spice levels high to authentically reflect how food is seasoned in Thailand, and guests must accept the dishes as is with no modifications. There’s heat in almost every single item, so get ready to sweat it out and down pitchers of water if dinner here is in the cards in the near future.Read More
I recently read somewhere that Lonely Planet designated Queens, NY as the top U.S. destination for 2015. I’m thinking the Queens Tourism Board aggressively pushed Lonely Planet for that title, because, let’s be honest, Queens is up-and-coming, but it’s not quite there yet. The borough does have a lot of good ethnic eats, though.
One of the star attractions in Queens is the restaurant SriPraPhai, an authentic Thai restaurant located in Woodside, an ethnically diverse part of Queens that was home to Irish, German and Italian immigrants in the early 20th century, and now includes Central and South Americans and Asians among them. Back in the day, like in 2005, SriPraPhai was the place to go for Thai food. People would complain about how the Thai food in the city sucks, and then someone would tell them to take the train to SriPraPhai in Queens.
Now we have more options in the city–Zabb Elee, Lan Larb, and Uncle Boon’s, to name a few–and so I haven’t made it out to SriPraPhai in awhile. However, I found myself in Queens after an afternoon at MoMA PS1, one of my favorite summer activities, and I decided that there would never be a more convenient time to stop by.
I found that the restaurant had undergone a renovation of sorts since we last went maybe 4 or 5 years ago. It feels bigger and spiffier, and they opened up a large outdoor area to accommodate even more diners. This being a nice summer day, we of course opted for the outdoor tables, although the mosquito situation was a little annoying.
We always get the green curry here, and it was just as good as ever. The creamy curry sauce is rich and comforting, good enough to sip on its own, until the heat and lime kick in to bring you to your senses. We hadn’t ever tried the famous fried watercress salad before so we ordered that, although I wasn’t quite sure how to consume it. On the right you had crunchy deep-fried watercress covered in batter, and on the left you had large bits of shrimp, chicken and squid in a sweet marinade. Were you supposed to somehow get a little bit of everything in your spoon? But how would you even attempt that? Did you have to manually break down the watercress pieces and the shrimp to make that happen? Were you supposed to pour the marinade on the watercress to soften it up? Clearly I was overthinking it and eventually just ate both sides separately. I felt like i was just filling up on fried batter, but I did like the marinaded meats a lot.
Ruoxi was feeling adventurous and ordered the tom-zap soup, which translates to beef’s offal soup. I’m not a big beef guts offal person, so I took a few sips and left it at that. There were some regular beef pieces in there, which were tender and inoffensive, but there was no escaping the intense flavors of tripe. If you’ve ever had menudo, the flavors are similar to that. Never liked menudo the band or the dish.
We also ordered something a little off-menu, which was exciting. In the a la carte section, they list a seasoned pork with garlic and pepper, but we requested that they make this with shrimp instead. The shrimp, which were big and plump, were covered in a ton of salty garlic. I loved this dish, especially with a bowl of coconut rice, whose sweetness I found to be a perfect complement to the salted shrimp, but the garlic is very intense. If you’re one of those close-talkers, I would advise that you steer clear from this plate.
Pleasantly stuffed, we made our way to the 65th St stop and took the train back to Manhattan. The train ride felt a little long, but the good thing was by the time we came home, some of our dinner had been digested and we had room for dessert. We made our way to Morgenstern’s, which of course had a line out the door, and ordered two scoops of the raw milk and tonka bean. Our meal had plenty of salt, a lot of heat, and tasted a little sour, but the sweet was a little lacking, and now with this ice cream it was officially complete.
64-13 39th Ave (between 64th and 65th St)
Woodside, NY 11377
Take the 7, R, F or E trains
Now that the weather’s so nice in New York, all I can think about is getting away. Clearly it’s not possible to fly whenever you want, but a great way to fake it is to take the train to Brooklyn and have dinner on Pok Pok‘s outdoor patio, where you can almost feel like you’re eating in one of those homey, hole-in-the-wall restaurants in Bangkok. They really have the details down–the old school Thai music playing in the background, the kitschy table cloths, the OUTDOOR PATIO–that you truly feel like you’re in a different time and place. The prices are a little high for what they are, but it’s a small price to pay for a mini stay-cation.
Everyone talks about the famous chicken wings, which are notorious for a reason. These chickens are coated in a bold, spicy marinade consisting of a ton of garlic and fish sauce. Great if you like your chicken wings a little sassy, not so great for the person sitting right next to you. I personally found the wings a little too sweet, but otherwise I thought that they were perfectly cooked–crispy on the outside, tender and juicy on the inside.
The real standout here was the hoi thawt, an amazing egg crepe filled with mussels, chives and bean sprouts. It sort of looks and sounds like a hot mess, but the flavors are so pure and undeniably delicious. The question I ask myself is, why don’t we see more hoi thawt on Thai menus? There’s a ton of pad thai and green curries, but never mussel crepes. These restaurants are holding out on us!
The papaya pok pok salad is very solid, although it is extremely spicy. At first you’ll find it sweet and refreshing, but then the heat suddenly builds, and builds, and BUILDS. I chugged my water and picked at every grain of rice as if my life depended on it. Ruoxi was sitting in a pool of his own sweat. I can handle moderate levels of heat, thanks to my Korean background, but this was way too much for me. Ruoxi, a novice to spicy foods, nearly died.
The only item that I didn’t really like was the laap muu khua phrae, a minced pork salad that tasted a little too fragrant and funky. And this one was extremely spicy as well. I essentially felt like I was eating spicy pork laced with potpourri, so needless to say it made me feel a little funny inside. It comes with a side of vegetables like Thai eggplant and cucumbers, which help relieve your palate of the heat, but not of the aromatic spices.
No Thai dinner is complete without some mango sticky rice, and the version they serve at Pok Pok is awesome. The mangoes were perfectly ripe, and the rice was sweet without being cloying. It was just the thing you would want after setting your mouth on fire. Afterwards, you can walk along the water taking in the views, and you start convincing yourself that you could actually move out to Brooklyn…until you realize the walk to the F train is 15 minutes, and the next train is another 15 minutes away. Traveling the distance for something special, just like a real vacation!
Pok Pok NY
117 Columbia St
Brooklyn, NY 11231