Best Thai Grocer?
I "happened upon" the revamping 2/3 of the way through, back in late November '06 (how time flies.) Give or take - it's been a while and it didn't seem important at the time. I went back about a month ago now and all the shelving seemed to have been installed and stocked, though it didn't seem like the proverbial fat lady had quite finished singing yet.
What they did in short was gut the place and opened up what must have been a back work/store room. At what used to be the back of the store, you walk down a few steps to another space roughly the same size as the original space (so now it's about 2x the size.) I didn't find their prices any lower than Mosco St, but I didn't usually much look at the Thai stuff anyway, with the other 2 places right there. They do now have more packaged Indonesian stuff (from Holland, somewhat ironically), but less of the bottles and jars, which was the only way to get some of the more esoteric stuff like cassia leaves, even if it was preserved rather than fresh or frozen.
I'm 98% sure I remember that the produce was still there outside, so that doesn't seem to have change, though I didn't usually buy that stuff there anyway.
"There's three. There's one on mulberry between bayard and canal as well"
They had some Thai things (specifically Thai) but they were Indonesian. They recently revamped and everyone speaks Chinese now, and while they've expanded further into "pan Asian", they've lost some of the more esoteric Indonesian things. Now it seems more like Yet Another Asian Market. I wouldn't particularly trust their turnover any more either, their clientele has changed a lot (lots more tourists now, fewer SW Pacific faces.)
Wow, When did they revamp? I've always shopped there, along with Bangkok Grocery on Mosco -- collectively, they almost always had what I need. The prices are much lower for staples (coconut milk, palm sugar, fish sauce) at the Mulberry Street place. But I haven't been in about 4-5 months. The place on Bayard seemed to have the least turnover of stuff in their freezer case to me, but that was a while ago.
For produce, I agree that the shop on Bayard between Mulberry and Mott usually has most of what you need. The guy from Bangkok Grocery shops there. The sidewalk vendors at Mulberry and Canal also have SE Asian produce, especially papaya.
Kalyustan's, while not a Thai grocery, carries a lot of the things that you are looking for. Lex and 29th, I think. I should add - in case you're not familiar with it - they don't have much in the way of produce, though do carry lime leaves, curry leaves, lemon grass, cilantro etc.
There only 2 to speak of, so don't worry so much about "best." One is on Bayard St near Mulberry, the other is on (the small and easy to miss) Mosco St, which angles between Mott and Mulberry Sts further south (walk along the street next to Columbus Park and look for the next street south of Bayard, on your left.) I prefer the Mosco St place, but that has as much to do with personalities as anything else, your mileage will presumably vary.
Unless my ethnicity-radar is badly on the fritz, the small produce stand on Bayard closer to Mott isn't Thai-run, but he almost always has a couple of kinds of Thai eggplants, sometimes the semi-Indonesian grocery store on Mulberry has them too. Don't know if they usually have green papaya, but I'd check them first.
At this point, most Chinatown grocery stores (among others) carry stuff like prepared curry pastes and random other Thai ingredients, but it's mostly for the tourists and if you check the dates, its obvious turnover is never very high.