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Thai in Elmhurst: Nusara, Chao, or both?

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This weekend we're gonna ride on past Sripriphai to try out Nusara or Chao Thai. And while I know neither place does the fried watercress salad, can people recommend dishes that each restaurant excels in? Is either focused on a particular region of Thailand? Would you choose one over the other, or would hitting one for a few dishes and then moving on to the other for a couple more be a good idea?

And most importantly, and a bit of a sidenote, which Indonesian restaurant in the area has the best avocado and chocolate milkshakes?

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  1. I've eaten at Chao once and Nusara twice and have to say I much preferred Nusara. We had a papaya salad with anchovies among other things and it was too spicy for me to even eat but the others liked it. The first time I went I had a lunch special of the crispy pork with chinese brocolli and it was delicious.

    fwiw, I probably like the duck salad at Zabb better then anything I've had at any Queens thai place, even on an off day! But I also think it's no less good (though a bit different) at Zabb City, so you can get that in manhattan.

    After the second meal at Nusara, we walked up to Mie Jakarta where my friend and gfriend got and split an avocado and chocolate milkshake, and they both agreed that the avocado wasn't ripe and the milkshake wasn't very good.

    I'd like to try the dumplings at the chinese place on the same strip as the indonesian places. Anyone been?

    8 Replies
    1. re: Widmark

      Widmark: The dumpling place is Lao Bei Fang Dumpling House. I've been many times for the excellent Pork & Chives Dumplings. You can choose fried ($1 for 4) or Steamed ($2 for 8). I prefer Steamed which takes 10 minutes. You can also get the steamed dumplings (8) with soup for $2.50. I also like the Scallion Pancake. Consider taking home 50 frozen dumplings for $10. To prepare place dumplings in rapidly boiling water for 10 minutes. The menu is in English & the owners understand English.

      1. re: Mike V

        I know this was discussed in another thread but...

        when you say "with soup" does that mean "in soup" or they are soup dumplings?

        1. re: Widmark

          Menu (# 9) - Chives & Pork Dumplings with Soup. It's 8 steamed dumplings placed in soup. I've never had this. I prefer the steamed dumplings with hot oil and soy sauce.

      2. re: Widmark

        I don't know if I was at Mie Jakarta or Upi Jaya, but I had a very tasty avocado shake at one of those places. Definitely wasn't Minang Asli.

        Thanks for your recs. Sadly, I've never been blown away by Zabb, but I'm sure I've just ordered wrong. We're going to eat our way around Whitney and I'll report back with what we get.

        1. re: lambretta76

          conventional wisdom says to avoid the curries and stick with the salads at zabb. I had one non-salad entry that was pretty good, but have never had reason to order anything other then the duck salad. Even the mock-duck salad is awesome.

          In any case, I feel guilty living so close to such amazing Thai options! I've eaten at Srip, Chao and Zabb in the last week alone.

          1. re: Widmark

            showoff ;)

        2. re: Widmark

          The dumplings at Lao Bei Fang are good, but don't miss out on the hand-pulled noodles.

          1. re: Joe MacBu

            Indeed. I'm a big fan of their beef and tendon noodle soup. The broth is a cousin of a Vietnamese pho base, but much better than any pho in the immediate area.. and those thick, chewy, elastic noodles... mmmm....

        3. I prefer Chao Thai over Nusara. Nusara has a bit more polished atmosphere and if I recall correctly, higher prices for smaller portions. I've found some of their dishes to be decent but nothing to return for. The chicken dish recommended by Peter Meehan in the NY Times article (khao mon gal) was flat out gross, but I'm not a poached chicken kind of guy (though my dining companion is, but she also found it inedible). The pork jerky dish he recommended was also not spectacular and comprised of 70% fat and gristle.

          In contrast, I've enjoyed everything I've had at Chao Thai. I go back for the larb, the sour sausage, and morning glory leaves.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Joe MacBu

            I feel the exact same way. Nusura tries to sell itself by presenting "high class" Thai and charging for it. My meal at Nusura was OK where as all of my meals at Chao Thai (over 20) have been spectacular. I almost always stick to the specials menu (which they forget to translate into English half the time I'm there) and the larb is excellent. I prefer Chao Thai's larb over Sri's.

            1. re: JFores

              I usually fail to order from Chao's specials menu since I can never get a translation of the dishes in English, even verbally. I know, I should just point randomly. What memorable dishes have they had on that menu?

              I agree, their larb is some of the best I've had in NY and LA. I think the extra nutty rice powder makes it transcendental.

              1. re: Joe MacBu

                I've had a few catfish dishes off of there that were excellent. I had a clam dish in a very hot dry red curry which was also pretty much awesome off of there. Morning glory salads. They had a variation on a mixed pork salad which was incredibly good on it too. I tend to order the seafood and pork specials. You can also ask them what's fresh. There was a duck in a dry curry special once that a friend of mine got which was incredibly good. Oh so many... The specials menu there is golden. It changes constantly too and reflects what seafood they have in.

                1. re: JFores

                  Chao is my Thai of choice these days. Nusara isn't all that is cracked up to be. I love their sir fried dishes, their curries are hit n miss, but the salada are mighty tasty

                  1. re: MOREKASHA

                    Papaya salad at Chao was excellent, if exceptionally spicy. This thread on Jackson Heights Life mentions both Chao and Nusara.
                    http://www.jacksonheightslife.com/com...

          2. Both Chao and Nusara are quite good, but if I had to choose, I would go with Nusara. The food at Chao is similar to Sripriphai(some dishes like the green curry even better) but generally, not quite as good. I've been to Nusara twice, and I find many of their dishes to be different from either place(for example, the Laotian papaya salad) so it becomes more of a destination when I want something good but I'm not in the mood for Sripriphai. That said, Sri is still my favorite. I've been eating there for almost eight years now.

            3 Replies
            1. re: pynchoff

              Would it be a good plan to grab salads at Nusara, then move on to Chao for curries and mains? Does Nusara have any other Laotian dishes?

              And two questions, since I haven't been to these parts in years - are there any decent places for beers in this area, both to bring to the restaurants and to consume at a bar afterwards?

              1. re: lambretta76

                NY Market is in the same mall as Nusara, and sells beer, including all the standard Asian beers (Sapporo, Singha, etc....). They used to carry a Laotian beer there, think that they still do. Same selection of beers is sold a block away at Hong Kong market. There are bars there, but I haven't been to any of them.

                1. re: EricMM

                  Had dinner @ Chao the other night. This was the 2nd time in 2 weeks that I didn't recognize any of the help there. This normally wouldnt be a big deal, but those two meals were way off. I'm wondering if there has been a change in ownership and/or the kitchen.

            2. So we went to Chao - we got too late of a start to hit both Nusara and Chao.

              Just an tidbit - the NY Market does not sell refrigerated beer, and they didn't appear to have a Laotian beer, either.

              I have to say I was very pleased with the food at Chao, though there were some misfires.

              The best:

              Green curry with tofu and eggplant: We just needed some veggies, and this stole the show. The green curry was simply the best I've had - beating Sripriphai's version with duck and Kittichai's version with short ribs (I liked the Kittichai version better than Sri's, actually). Some spices in there I couldn't put my finger on, but we were close to licking the bowl. And medium spicy, as I predicted, came out almost too spicy to us, which was perfect. We were sweating, but beer was our friend.

              Thai chicken fried rice: My wife loves fried rice. She loves lots of other stuff, and has eaten pretty much everything I've eaten, generally with a smile, but God bless her, she just loves the fried rice. And God bless her, indeed, because I would never have thought of ordering this. And it was amazing. Moist, flavorful, spicy as hell, and perfect. I'd order it again in a second.

              The great: Pad prik khing curry with pork, duck with basic and garlic

              The "good": Larb with beef, Green papaya salad with seafood.

              I just say good because I would love these if I had them at a neighborhood Thai joint in Brooklyn, but they were just merely good at a place like this. The larb couldn't hold up to the flavor of the other dishes, and the green papaya salad was one dimensional - all lime, all the time. Plus, the seafood (squid, mussles, shrimp) was a bit chewy - it tasted like a ceviche, but came nowhere near Zabb's or even Sri's salads.

              The not so great:

              Fried scallion dumpling: Two gummy scallion pancakes, deep fried and greasy. Not too good.

              Thanks for all of the recs, guys - we did have a great meal. I'll try and make it to Nusara to do a comparo soon.

              1 Reply
              1. re: lambretta76

                I adore the green curry there now, but I find that even when I ask for very spicy in Thai it comes out too mild. That's annoying. I barely taste the spice where as the jungle curry is still quite hot to me. The very hot green is only like a medium jungle.

              2. Chao Thai has become a dependable mainstay for the wife and me. Agreed about the Green Curry and those hearty chunks of eggplant. Good stuff. I've enjoyed the other curries as well, and had a memorable bowl of Duck Noodles last winter. The one disappointing dish I've had there was a frog dish off their specials menu. I'm guessing that it was just the wrong thing to order for that day, whenever it was, because the frog tasted like it had been in the freezer for a year, and the spice and heat obliterated the flavor completely. It might just be the wrong thing to order at Chao.
                P.

                1. I see you have already gone to Chao Thai, and I have never been, but I would have suggested Nusara, which I loved. It's not the most amazing thai I have ever had, but what I love about it is that when I ask for it 5 stars, it actually comes out REALLY hot.

                  My question is does Chao Thai make their food as hot as Nusara does? I was planning on going to Nusara this Friday, but will try Chao if they make their food very spicy. (For example, although I love the flavor of Sriphiphai, I prefer Nusara because their food is much hotter).

                  4 Replies
                  1. re: Taylor.Watson

                    If you ask for very hot at Chao Thai or even better say pek mak mak clearly when dealing with a hot dish like jungle curry or anything with frog or cat fish, then it will be hot enough to melt through the plate, table and floor.

                    1. re: JFores

                      Thank you very much. I'll be giving it a try this Friday!

                      1. re: Taylor.Watson

                        I love Chao but I think there might of been a change of ownership. On my last 3 visits I have not recognized any of the staff.

                      2. re: JFores

                        It's "phet phet" (pronounced similar to "pet pet") or "phet mak mak" for spicy.