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Zabb: better than Sripraphai? Is it a lock?

Zabb has more refined, subtle, complex curries and the best Thai noodles I have had in NYC. Any thoughts?

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  1. Zabb has better drunken noodles and much better crispy duck than Sri. I also like their papaya salad (which is different, not better than Sri's) and the bbq beef. The seafood in their salads doesn't always taste fresh at Zabb.
    Sri has much better mango salad and much better curries (though I only had a curry at Zabb once).
    Overall I'd say Sri is better. They have more variety, excel across the board, and have a very professional service. I haven't tried a lot of different stuff at Zabb, but I feel they don't have much else to offer than what I already had there. It's still a great place, though.

    8 Replies
    1. re: ow77

      I think maybe the OLD Sri WAS better, but they seem to be a lot or a little off about 7 out of 10 times. I think that they have too many cooks, and it varies wildly. Zabb is at least consistently excellent.

      1. re: NYJewboy

        Complaints about Sri not being what it used to be come up every now and then, I think ever since they expanded. I've been going to Sri for only a couple of years but I haven't noticed any decline in quality during that time.

        1. re: ow77

          Exactly right. I haven't noticed any decline at all.

          1. re: Bob Martinez

            definitely, Sripraphai is NOT the place it was when it was a hole in the wall many years ago. no question. i like it, but it aint the same.

        2. re: NYJewboy

          Not that helpful of a question, as I don't think of them as fungible, but the followup drew me in. I've posted very favorably about what I like about Zabb over the years, but I have found them wildly inconsistent, even with dishes I like. I love that they go deeper into Issan food than any other place I know in NYC--deeper than I want to go, because that cuisine tends to get too pungent, earthy and organ-y for me at a certain point. Certain of their yums or laaps have been the best things I've had in NYC, but other times these same dishes have faltered. I haven't tried the curries, since that's not what I go to an Issan place for -- which ones were good? These personnel changes concern me (unless by some miracle the best chefs stayed behind), since I had always hoped they'd keep on doing their funky thing, since there is no substitute.

          While I do notice Sripraphai's edge being dulled a little more often than it used to be, I find it still far more consistent across an impressive range of dishes. I think of it as more luscious food, and find the salads refreshingly sprightly and balanced. Outside of the sour curry and the sator beans, I don't find they hit the same funky bass notes Zabb does, but they aren't aiming for them, and that's okay. It's still the place I'll take people who don't specifically want Issan food over Zabb.

          I'm a bitter, pessimistic soul about finding noodles that I want -- I want pad see ew and raad na -- anywhere, and have kind of stopped trying at either place.

          1. re: mary shaposhnik

            You articulated that beautifully Mary. Can you tell me what your favorites at Sri are?

            1. re: NYJewboy

              Same as everyone's, I think (it's probably one of the most combed-through Thai restaurants in the country, so there are few secrets!). For me, it's more about putting together a fabulous meal rather than any single fabulous dish, and I love that it never disappoints in this way. I love the green curry, jungle curry, sour curry (all 3 fit very different moods), sometimes the panang curry, beef salad (namtok), moo manao (pork with garlic and lime, I think they call it), bamboo shoot salad (in the case, not on the menu), sometimes the shrimp salad, the green mango sauce; I like the khao soi okay but prefer my homemade version; I don't like some of the stir frieds (frogs legs with basil, duck with red curry paste).

          2. re: NYJewboy

            Actually, as someone who has been going to Sri for 8 years and Zabb since they opened, I find Sri to be more consistently great, and Zabb a bit more hit and miss.

        3. If I'm making a trip to Queens for the best Thai food, and I only eat vegetarian and some fish (no shellfish), which is better to go to (or is it not worth it given my limited eating abilities)?

          2 Replies
          1. re: littlebites

            sri is better for you--they have a veg menu and do a variety of things better.

            As for the zabb vs.sri, debate, there are/were some things that zabb does/did? better than sri (some yums, the duck salad, the larb) but overall i think sri is better. plus, last time i was at zabb, it was different, more inept people running the place and the food wasn't as good. then i heard that the original owners sold the JH location and now run the one in astoria. so who knows how the JH zabb will go?

            1. re: littlebites

              Might depend on your take on fish sauce, in which case Sri might be the only option in the class.

              Real answer IMO? Poodam's. Their menu's not quite as long as Sri's or the JH Zabb's, but I think they make the best Issan salads in Queens at the moment (many great, but don't miss the mackerel or catfish larbs!) and their curries are pretty terrific too. If you're gonna go meatless, it's hard to beat their Penang curry with mock duck.

            2. Sri is great, I eat there at least 2x a month, and have eaten there early on when there were never any non Thai's there in the old digs. Service is excellent, and if you stay away on weekends, the consistency has not been a problem. Was just there on Friday afternoon, July 4th, and it was superb. --everything.

              Tried Nursara for lunch, it was pretty good, but portions were smaller than Sri. Much prefer the atmosphere at Sri also. Haven't tried Chao Thai yet, though.

              2 Replies
              1. re: janie

                Great drunken noodles at Chao.

                1. re: janie

                  I'm confused about Nusara because I've seen posts about how it's more expensive than Chao Thai, but when I was at Chao Thai I got the "three buddies" salad and the duck noodles (yes, lots of food, but I'd rather get some variety after traveling so far and have the leftovers). About $20. The same two dishes according to Nusara's menu cost $6 less. Does it just seem more expensive because the portions are smaller?

                2. Your claim seems to be like saying Commander's Palace is a better American restaurant than Gramercy Tavern because they make better burgers and french fries. Even if both these places made burgers and fries, is it really worth assessing the common demonimators, rather than what differentiates them?

                  To me, Sripraphai and Zabb different restaurants, worth seeking out for different reasons. First off, they specialize in Thai cuisine from different regions; Sripraphai being more southern Thai from around Bangkok, and Zabb more northern, from the Issan region. Sure, many items on their menus overlap, but what draws me to either place are those items I consider their strengths. Personal preferences also factor in here, since I'm not very partial to the watery, soupy northern Thai curries, and prefer the curries from the southern regions. If you go to LA's Thai town and head to some of the Thai places from farther southern Thai regions, you'll also find the dry curries, which I'm learning to love. The only anamoly might be that Sripraphai offers Khao Soy, which is something found more in the north. I like to drop in for lunch at Sripraphai for khao soy, which IMO, is one of their best dishes. At Zabb, have you tried the Thai hot pot? I don't know of other places that offer it. As for other noodles, it is a "lock", since Sripraphai's Gai Kua noodles is another of my favorite dishes. I've tried versions at the other Thai places and it just isn't as good. The Thai scene in Queens is improving with an influx of Thais, and having restaurants featuring cuisines from various regions might be an example of it maturing even more. The sign of a developed ethnic niche is finding restaurants that feature a limited menu of specialty items, all different from one another. I'd love to see something like that here.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: E Eto

                    That was great E Eto. I'm going to take you up on this and make sure I try all your suggestions. Thanks.

                    1. re: E Eto

                      that's funny, i never think of it as a regional thing (perhaps i'm not so well versed in what's from what region in thailand) but more of a stand vs. restaurant split. the things i like at zabb are the things i would get at a cart/stall in bangkok--yums, noodles, etc.

                      much of the stuff i like at sri is stuff i would order in a real sit-down restaurant in bangkok.

                      I understand what you are saying about them being 2 different restaurants, but i think many people on this board are only going to trek out to queens once in a while for a thai meal and want to choose one. for that, i would rec sri, because they do the dishes zabb does well better than zabb does the dishes they do well.

                    2. not sure about Zabb's conistency, now that they have new owners and new menu! Surprised this hasn't been discussed here. Supposedly same chef, but different servers and now open for lunch. Zabb City seems the same.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Widmark

                        Was in the area today and surprised that they were open for lunch now. A bit disappointed that the lunch menu did not seem to include any of the Issan specialties though...obviously could still order them off regular menu but it's nice to get the lunchtime discount.

                        1. re: Widmark

                          widmark, see my post above. last time i was at JH zabb, there were definitely serving issues and i really missed the sweet ladies who used to take great care of us. food was good, but seemed a tad worse than usual (perhaps my perceptions were influenced by the service)
                          haven't tried the one in astoria yet. i heard about the new owners, but didn't know it was the same chef. thought the chef went to the astoria one.
                          the place is def different, tho. I didn't know about the sale, but remarked to a friend who knows the old owners (regular customer) that we had been to the JH zabb and it had been a little off and he told me that the JH zabb had been sold.

                          1. re: missmasala

                            I walked by Zabb yesterday and noticed a sign for a $6.25 Lunch Special. I'll stop by next Wednesday for lunch when Sripraphai is closed. I'm curious to see what they're offering for $6.25.

                            1. re: Mike V

                              I saw this too. Unfortunately from a quick glance at the menu it didn't seem to be any of their specialties. I don't remember everything on it but I didn't see any salads and definitely saw the curries. at 1pm there was no one else in the restaurant when I came in to look at the menu...I felt a little guilty leaving.

                              Does Sri have lunch specials?

                              1. re: NancyC

                                NancyC: Since I'm going for lunch on a Wednesday when Sri's closed, I'll sit and order. Sri dosen't have lunch specials but you can order an entree such as pork leg with mustard green over rice for $7.00 or just 75 cents more than the $6.25 Zabb Lunch Special. When I looked in yesterday at lunch, I could see six people dining but the lunch special is new.

                        2. Sri forever and always. Tried Zabb Queens & Zabb City, am not rushing to go back to either place. I did feel that Zabb Queens' crispy pork with chinese broc had a slight edge over Sri but their laabs and papaya salad was just not to my liking...maybe it's simply the Issan style that I don't care for.

                          Sri is never disappointing but at times there is some inconsistency in their spicing and portions. Been a regular for 6+years and they are still my go-to thai place. Every place in NYC I've tried to date never measures up.

                          1. I think, given its' bigger, more varied menu(ala Sripraphai), that Nusara provides the better basis for comparison. As much as I love Sripraphai, my last two meals at Nusara have me and my wife mentioning them in the same breath regularly.

                            The duck salad we had this evening was outstanding. Nice fat gobs of duck, crisp yet tender and moist, mixed in there with lettuce, tomato, pineapple, onion, peanuts, peppers and plenty of heat. It was an excellent dish with a superb balance of spice, flavor and texture, and it solidified Nusara in our minds as one of our new go-to restaurants in Queens. By comparison, I have also tried Sri's duck salad, loved it. But this one, for whatever reason, will stick out in my memory further, and I'll be craving it the way I do lots of stuff at Sri (like, for instance, the crispy pork tenders or the watercress salad). For the heat mavens out there, I would say that Nusara, along with nearby Chao, will do it hotter and spicier for you than Sri will. The heat for me is important, but what puts Nusara up there with Sri is the balance and power they put in their dishes. The way an otherwise ordinary dish, such as the Chinese-leaning Nusara Special, can be bumped up to memorable with a few aromatic strips of ginger. Their ingredients have alwasy struck me as fresh, through and through, and their non spicy dishes, such as the one listed as, simply, Chicken Soup, are knock-outs (try it, and you'll see what I mean).

                            In this whole discussion of comparing Sri with other places, I think more mention should be made of desserts. Sri's coconut ice cream, which is served up in a coconut the size of a softball and topped off with nuts, is one of the most underrated and refreshing desserts in the city. Tonight, I tasted something at Nusara to match it: the mango sticky rice. The mango mixes well with the subtly sweet rice, which is topped off by bits of roasted dried corn. Just a heads-up to whoever wants to try this little wonder: the proprietor told me it will only be in season for another two weeks.

                            I love Sri, and always leave there feeling good. I'm less concerned with who is ultimately number one than I am very enthusiastic with the excellent Thai scene we have going in Queens. Thai food can be deceptively simple and very inventive, and we've got some excellent eateries in which we can sample that.
                            P.
                            P.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Polecat

                              great comparison, and helpful post. Thanks!