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Oct 22, 2003 05:09 PM

Best Thai in Manhattan?

  • s

Accepting suggestions for the best Thai restaurants in Manhattan (can't go to Queens).

Have tried all the places on the UES, and nothing stands out.

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    Ninth Ave., betw 52 and 53 St.

    50th St., betw 8 and 9 Ave.

    both places are not much to look at , but the food is fantastic.

    16 Replies
    1. re: hayley

      Yes, Won Dee Siam is amazing. Go to the one on the east side of 9th Avenue rather than the one across the street. Ask about the desserts, and if they happen to have the warm, sweet coconut milk stew with pumpkin, taro, and squash, definitely try it — and if you don't have room for dessert after dinner, take that stew home with you, because they probably won't have it the next time you ask after it.

      Also in the neighborhood is the slightly more upscale (though just as tiny) Thai restaurant on the east side of 10th Avenue between 45th and 46th Streets; the name of it escapes me at the moment. The "Jungle Curry" is spicy, fresh, beautiful, loaded with basil.

      1. re: Liana

        I had some great curry puffs from Won Dee Siam II. I wished they had some heat, rather than just the curry taste.

        Also, we split a bowl of the coconut milk chicken curry soup. It was great, and the aroma of the lemongrass and the taste of the curry was fantastic. (Sorry, order it often, but have blanked on the Thai name.)

        I found the vegetable dumplings cloying sweet, and almost inedible. As an aside, I was in NYC as a tourist from LA, and if Thai's your thing...Boy Howdy! do we have some great food out here!

        1. re: cjla

          Real Thai restaurants are extremely rare. I've been to San Francisco's "best Thai" and it's not real Thai even though there's a huge asian population there. IF you don't know what real Thai tastes like, there are a couple things you can do to QUICKLY determine if the restaurant you're in COULD BE authentic:

          1) Ask for "Pad Kraw Pow" (Basil Chicken)...ask them how they make it. An authentic place will chop it very little bits. Make a chopping motion with your hand and ask them if they chop it fine. A non-authentic place will give it to you in "chunks" rather than finely chopped. This is a SURE-FIRE indication of possible authenticity.

          2) The second is a bit trickier... but ask how they make their "Tom Yom" soup (could be either chicken or prawns)...ask if it's "clear style" or if they start with chili paste. The most authentic variety will be "clear style" and they will infuse the chili flavor (and heat) from real chili's sliced open, not from a bunch of chili paste. You'll know it because the chili paste bowl of soup looks "redder". Also, authentic Tom Yom should have plenty of visible lemongrass cuttings and several generous shavings of "galanga" (it kind of looks like a miniature tree cut cross-wise...looks like a tree trunk looking down on the galanga. Also, the soup should have enough of this "debris" to be a bit irritating as it is largely inedible even though I'll often eat a piece or two of galanga, it's great from your digestion.

          There's still good Tom Yom that's made from chili paste, but ALL the phony ones are made from it. If your restaurant doesn't finely chop the Pad Kraw Pow and they use chili paste in the Tom Yom, you're not eating authentic Thai food.

          But the first measure above is so easy to do and will eliminate about 95% of all Thai restaurants immediately.

          1. re: Chicago Mike

            Montien on 3rd Ave. bet. 11th to 13th st. has a good clear style version of tom yum but, wondee's chili paste version is better. Try greeting the waitress in wondee in thai, "sawadee ka" if your a girl or "sawadee kap" upon seating and that might get your food spiced-up. Don't forget to thank them too at the end of the meal..."Kop Kun Ka or Kap".

            1. re: Chicago Mike

              Had tom yum soup from Won Dee last week, and I remember it as being very clear, not red at all. So maybe there wasn't much chile paste in it. In any case, it was very good. I'm wondering, though: Do you know what the sweetening agent might be? I was thinking maybe palm sugar . . . ? It just had a hint of something sweet, and I couldn't place it.

              1. re: Liana

                Liana: the sweetness could come from palm sugar, which is the most common Thai sweetening's dabbed into papaya salad, for example. But I honestly don't recall palm sugar being an ingredient in tom yom (though a dab of it could be).

                OR, it could have come from onion slivers if there was onion in the tom yom. OR could even have come from the lemongrass which has a sweet dimension to it and a slightly sweet nose as well, especially if the lemongrass is very plump and fresh i just love the scent and flavor. OR could even have come from a squeeze of lime or kaffir lime leaf. Last but not least, if it was shrimp tom yom many people detect a slight sweetness in shrimp meat, especially if very fresh. OR, most likely, a combination of all the above.

                BUT tom yom typically will not be particularly sweet. If anything a slight sourness predominates.

                That's the subtlety of thai cooking...each ingredient imparting a hint of sweet, sour, spice, heat....

            2. re: cjla

              Unfortunately for you, wondeeII doesn't compare with the original wondee across the street. The original has two great thai chefs. Plus if we could venture out of manhattan into queens - we've got the thai to compete with la anytime - sripriphai. Much info on outer boroughs board.

            3. re: Liana

              The thai place on 10th Ave is called Olieng (used to be Temduang). Unfortunately, I have been rather disappointed every time I've been. Do a search for temduang and you'll see that others have had similar experiences.

              Aside from Wondee, definitely also check out Pam Real Thai on 49th just off 9th Ave.

            4. re: hayley

              Wondee is only great 'Thai' IMO if you can convince them to cook Thai for you. Meaning you must ask for the Thai menu, if not physically, at least in spirit, and order dishes from it (have the server interpret). Otherwise, you get food with no heat and less true Thai flavors. Even if you beg for heat in items on the American menu, you will not get it. That's my experience.

              BTW, American menu items can be very tasty. Nothing wrong with them at all. I've enjoyed some of them and I'm not trying to preach about Thai purity here. But if you're looking for Thai flavors and heat, you might be disappointed if you don't know how to order.

              1. re: ahab

                That's true. I had one initial great experience and two terrible ones. During the subsequent visits I was sure I had convinced the waitress that I wanted real Thai food, but what came out was not at all good. It wasn't even well-made Thai food without the heat but just plain bad all around. I'm not sure what combination of factors is necessary to get a great meal out of this place.

                1. re: ahab

                  I agree with the above poster. I tried them out last night. The food was decent but nothing special. We started with the duck spring rolls. Forgettable. Followed by the crispy pork w/watercress and Pad Kra Pow. Both were good but not great. I'd go back, maybe, if I was in the neighborhood and wanted cheap food.

                2. re: hayley

                  Yeah, for some reason there's a glut of pretty good Thai in the West 50's around Ninth Ave. Chanpen (sp?) is good too, imo, at 51st and 9th, although not as good as Wondee.

                  1. re: hayley

                    I went there with my daughter in June for lunch. It was absolutely the best Thai I've ever had (and it's my favourite cuisine, so that's saying something). If you are caucasian, they put something red in the Pad Thai that they don't seem to do for asians. It changes the flavour so that it isn't quite as nice, so make sure you get the pale one. Very reasonably priced, great specials.

                    1. re: hayley

                      I would say Pam Real Thai and Rhong Tiam.

                      1. re: chompchomp

                        Rhong Tiam is inconsistent and way too overrated, in my opinion.

                        1. re: noncommercial

                          Rhong Tiam seems to serve the same dishes in absolutely opposite fashion every time I go. Inconsistent is a diplomatic way to put it.

                    2. t

                      i'm going to hate myself for doing this (exposing my secret dive), but want to share my fav thai with chowhound...east village thai...on 7th street between cooper and 2nd ave...right by cooper union. it's tiny...only like 4 tables, really just a take-out joint, but it's inexpensive and very very good. they'll add heat for you if asked - they have a delicious pad woon sen, too...the glass noodle dish with veggies and chicken if you like (I do!).

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: tribeca-girl

                        I second east village thai (granted, 5 years later, but the thread was bumped). They recently renovated.

                        1. re: tribeca-girl

                          I totally agree, I used to live on the LES and would order from there every chance I got. THis place is amazing. The jungle curry (no coconut milk) is delicious, and they can make it extra-spicy (Thai-style) if you ask. It's a tiny hole in the wall, but the stuff that comes out of their kitchen is addictive. the highlight here is the food, not the ambiance.

                          1. re: tribeca-girl

                            oh-ho! thanks for that. I love pad woon sen!!!

                          2. Wondee Siam, Rhong Tiam, Zabb City, Thai Market.

                            1. I may get laughed off the Boards, but I've been really enjoying Planet Thailand 212, which is on 24th Street, between Broadway and 6th Avenue. It is one of those annoyingly trendy-looking Manhattan restaurants, but the food is actually quite good, and if you order something spicy it will make you sweat. I only get lunch there (work around the corner) but I've always found the food to be better than any other Thai place in the neighborhood.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: LloydG

                                No laughs here. PT212 is actually pretty damn good.

                                I would add Laut (15 E17) - I've been getting take outs from there and even though its billed as Malaysian / Thai (I always assume mixed cuisine restaurants will do neither well), dishes of both styles have been superb.

                                Lastly, I'd add Pongsri Thai, in particular the 23rd street branch.

                              2. Boyd Thai, Montien, or Pongsri.