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authentic thai in manhattan

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Hi from a very very cold Minneapolis. My wife (who is Thai) and I are coming to Manhattan on business next week and are staying around 31st and Broadway. Lots of Korean food in that area but we're wondering where the authentic Thai places are hiding in Manhattan. Ambiance/decor is NOT important. And fake Thai or the sugared up/Americanized stuff is a non-starter. We're not food snobs, but we live in Bangkok three months a year and are powerfully spoiled in our expectations for the cuisine.

Any help? We're good to go to other boroughs if it's train accessible and not a 30 minute walk once we're off the train (gawd I sound spoiled don't I?).

Thanks in advance for a places link or two.

HuaGung

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  1. We're getting your weather a day later. Thanks a lot!

    You're not going to get Bangkok-quality food in New York, and certainly not in Manhattan. If you want to stay in Manhattan, once option is to go to Wondee Siam 1 or 2. Both of them have a Thai menu that you have to ask for. I'm really fond of the larb moo; if you talk to the older gentleman at Wondee II, he'll work wit you to customize your meal.

    In Queens, the two old-time favorites are Sripraphai and Zabb (the latter has an Issan/Northern bias, and is much stronger in salads and plainer meats and fish; sauces are better, in general, at Sripraphai. They are easy to get to by subway, and quite close to the subway exit. It is a bit of a schlep to get there, but not inconvenient from where you are staying. Zabb is at 7128 Roosevelt Blvd. in Jackson Heights, quite close to Sripraphai.

    I'm not that current on Thai food in New York. My travels take me to L.A. and Las Vegas quite often, and the Thai food is much better there, but I hope you find something that pleases you in New York.

    -----
    SriPraPhai
    64-13 39th Ave, Queens, NY 11377

    Wondee Siam
    792 9th Ave, New York, NY 10019

    Wondee Siam II
    813 9th Ave, New York, NY 10019

    4 Replies
    1. re: Dave Feldman

      lotta coverage on these secret menus at the various Wondee Siams, are there 3 of them?

      anyway, ate at Wondee Siam II last night, thinking it had a "secret" menu; it was on every table in those little table stands but had different choices than the one at Wondee Siam I [ http://newyork.seriouseats.com/2008/0... ]. The only thing I saw was the same wsa the mieng ka na (which we ordered); a lot of the items on the "secret" menu at number 2 seemed pretty standard fare (or at least, funkier than their huge menu).

      anyway, we had 3 salads:

      + yum woon sen - deliciously sour, served warm
      + pork larb - asked for extra spicy, came spicy but also extra salty
      + mieng ka na - off the table-stand menu

      all 3 were good, all were around $11 +/- $1, all had good flavor but somewhat shoddy ingredients; I'm thinking specifically about the yum soon sen; weak shrimp and seafood but, not horrible. doesn't come close to ayada's rendition but still good (my mouth just started watering). the pork larb was very flavorful, very good smoky grilled flavor on the meat, but too salty. good spice level. the mieng ka na was really good; a pile of sweet spicy crunchy soft stuff to be stuffed in raw leaves of chines broccoli or something related; very delicious but too sweet.

      is this the best of the hell's kitchen area? sure as hell beats any other meal I've ever had in the area but then again, I'm still a Queens devotee when it comes to Thai; give me Ayada or Chao Thai any day, with better food, bigger portions, lower prices and better ingredients.

      Dave, the older gentleman must be the manager with his funny horn rim glasses? Great guy, very attentive and all the service was very good.

      1. re: bigjeff

        You should go to the original Wondee ONLY. The man there himself told me that I'd find Wondee II bland and sweetened, and not to my taste.

        1. re: bigjeff

          Yes Jeff, that's him. The three times I've had the pork larb there, it was salty but not as salty as you describe, so maybe it was an off-night. I'm hoping from Pan's comment that the original Wondee has recovered from its nosedive of a couple of years ago. AT one time it was so superior to the west side Wondee, but after a chef change, it plunged in quality. I haven't been back since a couple of horrible meals there, I think in 2007. I certainly don't want to oversell Wondee. Even its highs aren't as good as the best in Queens, and it is inconsistent both from dish to dish and from visit to visit.

          1. re: Dave Feldman

            Dave, stick to the "Secret Thai" menu, and tell your waiter/waitress that you want everything Thai style and VERY SPICY. Tell them you won't send it back for being too hot and take full responsibility for whatever happens. That's what I did last time, and it was actually somewhat too hot for my girlfriend and me, but we wouldn't admit it, because we don't want them to tone down the chili and the taste, and it was delicious! So we just drank more water, ate more rice, and enjoyed.

      2. it's unlikely that you will be happy with any Thai in Manhattan...occassionally you can get a decent dish or two at Zaab City (but only the Isaan dishes) or Wondee Siam, but neither one would measure up to even the most average BKK restaurant or streetfood stand

        as you guessed, you're best off heading to Queens...do a search on that board and you'll get tons of info on Sripraphai, Chao, and a couple other places...from your location, it's easy enough to hop the 7 train at Times Sq

        if you decide to try a Manhattan Thai place, definitely chat up the staff extensively and tell them in Thai exactly how you prefer things prepared, etc...once in a rare while, you'll find a chef who is excited to cook up something special, and sometimes i've convinced places to serve me the staff meal of the day...but often, even if they are game, they don't even have the necessary ingredients on hand (e.g. bla-ra)...most Manhattan places don't even make their somdam w/ the little dried shrimp (they simply don't bother to stock because they think most farangs either don't like it or don't care)...and some even use canned, goopy chili sauce instead of fresh chilies...get the idea of how grim things are?...

        Good luck!...

        As a sidenote, if you are craving spicy food, Manhattan *does* have some very fine options for Sichuan food...Grand Sichuan on 24th/9th or Szechuan Gourmet on 39th/5th...so maybe keep those in mind...

        1 Reply
        1. re: Simon

          I agree with Simon. Sripraphai is really your best bet. I think that Pam at Pam's Real Thai on 49th just west of 9th Av. could make you some real stuff, but really, go to Queens.

        2. Thanks one and all for the advice. We're off to Sripraphai tonight and will hit up Szechuan Gourmet on Saturday. I'll post a note after we've tried them.

          thanks again,

          HuaGung

          5 Replies
          1. re: HuaGung

            Hi

            Please enjoy!
            And post your report when you can! (Just did SG Sunday and really enjoyed it!)

            Cheers

            1. re: HuaGung

              I hope you enjoy Sripraphai, their tod mon pla is good and the catfish too. But if you want to try a place in manhattan with good thai food try Toon's on bleecker st. but be sure to ask for Toon and tell her you want the food made real thai style ( there will be a big difference) you will get real nam pa with it and it will be spicier not toned down. you will say "aroy mak".
              i recommend the laab, the fried fish, and the moo yang.
              Also Thai Basil at 860 9th ave. small place, authentic thai food. Thai Clientele.

              1. re: foodwhisperer

                What does "aroy mak" mean? I speak Malay, but no Thai. :-)

                1. re: Pan

                  very delicious

                  1. re: Pan

                    very delicious food is aroy mak

              2. If you want authentic Thai, the most authentic I have had here is called "Thailand Restaurant" on 10th ave between 56th and 57th...the decor is not the best but the food is so good (it's the least sugary Thai I've had in Manhattan). I haven't had Thai in Queens but I think you should check it out.....and it's easy to get to!-if you like spice, the spicy foods here are SPICY.
                Another great place is "Lime Leaf" but it's up at 107th and Broadway (I think Broadway, you can easily look it up).
                But try Thailand Restaurant--the owners will do anything for you--they are very accomodating...last time I was there they told me there is a new chef from Thailand there so "the food is authentic"......he worked at a 5 star hotel there.
                check it out, it's worth it...prices are good (9-15 per entree).

                1 Reply
                1. re: papagai

                  I agree Thailand Restaurant is very authentic

                2. while i have spent time in Thailand over the years, my preference is always delicious over authentic. 2 delicious places in manhattan whether authentic or not are rhong tiam on laguardia and 3rd, and land northeast thai on 2nd ave and 81st

                  the 1st (i think) pongsri was also known as "Thailand restaurant" as the name pongsri was only written in thai. its on bayard and baxter. very good, i have not gone in years, but after my 1st long trip to Thailand in the 80's it was my preferred "authentic" place. but that was long ago

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: thew

                    Second the Rhong Tiam recommendation. Spicy, complex flavors, and delicious.

                    I am curious about the Wondee rec's here because I have *never* had a good meal at I or II and have tried multiple times. Is there a secret handshake that gets you good stuff? Are there particular dishes that stand out that I've missed?

                    1. re: rose water

                      I can't think of any Thai restaurant in New York, in Queens or Manhattan, that isn't inconsistent. Wondee is highly inconsistent. I think your best bet is to speak to the gentleman at Wondee II and ask for the Thai menu (that is partially translated into English). It isn't a secret menu, just one that they assume most New Yorkers wouldn't be interested in.

                      My one meal at Rhong-Tiam was so poor I haven't thought of going back. I went primarily because of several recommendations for the khao soi, one of my favorite dishes. It didn't have any of the complexity of a good khao soi. Many of the other dishes I tried were marred by excess sweetness.

                      I used to go to Pam's a lot shortly after it opened, but I haven't had an outstanding dish there in my last three tries, and it's out of my rotation.

                  2. Thanks everyone for all the advice and specifically for the recs for Sripraphai. We wound up going there twice and getting to try close to a dozen dishes. Here's a recap of our two meals:

                    On Friday night we ordered the Gaeng Bha (Jungle Curry), Yum Pla Dook Foo (crispy catfish salad), Pak Bung Fai Dang (stir fried watercress (in Bangkok it's called "Morning Glory"), Neua Yang Jim Jaew (fried beef with Jim Jaew sauce), Pak Kana Pla Kem (vegetable with salty dried fish), and some Lychee ice cream.

                    Our first mistake was ordering quite a few things we eat regularly in Minneapolis at our fav Thai joint there and for which the chef there is widely lauded. The dishes at Sripraphai that we REALLY enjoyed Friday were the Yum Pla Dook Foo and the Pak Kana Pla Kem. The crispy catfish was really great, and the mango salad part of it first rate. Not the spiciest thing to be sure, but very delicious. I'm not a big fan of salty dried fish, but it's one of my wife's indulgences and she was quite pleased with it. The other dishes disappointed slightly but not in a way that would deter us from going back (obviously!). The Gaeng Bha was very lightly flavored and was almost watery. Our experience with this dish is a rich and dense and very spicy dish that will/can take your breath away when prepared properly. Sripraphai's seemed toned down far too much. The Pak Bung Fai Dang was stir-fried in oyster sauce and was radically over-cooked and mushy. No taste. Wouldn't order it again. In Bangkok this dish is stir-fried in butter and garlic and chilis. At Sripraphai, with oyster sauce only. Sadly, the vegetable was recently banned in Minnesota (it's hollow stems harbor bacteria apparently and now it's no longer served) despite being served everywhere else in the mapped world. Our Neua Yang Jim Jaew was deep fried beef (not grilled as the name would imply) and the sauce was thin and wimpy.

                    Saturday was another experience altogether. We ordered Tod Mun Gung (fried shrimp cakes/patties), Tom Yum Kha Moo (hot and sour soup with roast pork leg), Goiy Jab (a large noodle soup with pig offal), Gaeng Phet Phak Tai (a wicked little curry from the deep south in Thailand), Khao Soi (a curried noodle soup/stew with beef), Pad Keemao Moo Krob (crispy pork belly stir fried with basil, chilies, and herbs), and a repeat on the Lychee ice cream.

                    We went seven for seven on Saturday. What a thrilling meal! My personal favorite was the Gaeng Phet Pak Tai. We eat this by another name in Thailand: Gaeng Keo Prik. It may be the hottest curry you can get in Thailand and you'll only find it in the deep south. It's mind/mouth and belly-numbing when done right. It's a hodge-podge of dried green pepper corns, black pepper corns, a LOT of dried red chilies, fresh chilies, shallots and garlic. It's not for the faint of heart but MAN was it good at Sripraphai. Maybe a 7 out of 10 on the fire scale, but I honestly don't think anyone could eat it if it was prepared as it is in Thailand. A great item I've not seen on other Thai menus in the US.

                    This is getting long, so I'll wrap it up here. We'll be back to Sripraphai as often as our visits to NYC allow. Now that we have a feel for what they do best we'll be dragging our friends along as well.

                    Thanks again for the recommendations.

                    HuaGung

                    9 Replies
                    1. re: HuaGung

                      I think that you might like Pam's Real Thai in Manhattan.
                      I think that their spice usage is more intense and interesting than Sripraphai.
                      http://www.pamrealthai.com/
                      404 W. 49th St. just west of 9th avenue.

                      1. re: RichardW

                        I've been there twice recently. While I liked the catfish Pad Prik very much, I'm finding that Pam's food is very inconsistent. In particular, the steamed items I've tried were pretty boring and rather flavorless. But I'm likely to be back. So please give me recommendations of other things to order, to maximize the chances of a delicious taste experience.

                        1. re: Pan

                          I just looked at Pam's menu (thanks for the tip!). I will be flying over there to have Choo Chee Snapper....one of my favorite dishes.....I never think of steamed foods when I think of Thai. Am I missing something?

                          1. re: EmoryJ

                            I honestly don't know. My friend is on a strict diet, and ordered steamed foods to limit his fat intake.

                          2. re: Pan

                            I have liked all the duck dishes. Especially the D5. Duck Chili Sauce.

                            1. re: RichardW

                              Thanks. I love duck.

                        2. re: HuaGung

                          thanks for the detailed response, very much appreciated.

                          people, you gotta get out to Ayada in Elmhurst! Had an excellent meal there (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5800...) a few weeks ago and dying to go back; good stuff and also just got a nice review in VV this week:

                          http://www.villagevoice.com/2009-01-2...

                          1. re: bigjeff

                            sounds good bigjeff ,, i'll check it out

                            1. re: bigjeff

                              Guess we'll be off to Elmhurst too on our next visit. Thanks for posting the link. The place sounds great. The wife and I are huge fans of the non-coconut curries and are anxious to try them in Ayada.

                              -huagung

                          2. Sripraphai is definitely very well known, but I don't think it's worth the trip. My last experience there wasn't great either - food is good, but service kind of stinks. I also found a piece of a scouring pad in my food...

                            I'm surprised nobody has suggested Rhong Tiam on Laguardia Place, just south of Washington Square Park. Great food, good service (though, beware one of the servers who likes to kneel by your table - a little awkward but nice guy), inexpensive. Easy trip from your hotel, too. You can walk up Broadway to 34th St. and catch the B, D, F, or V going downtown to W. 4th St.

                            -----
                            Rhong-Tiam
                            541 LaGuardia Pl, New York, NY 10012

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: angiebc290

                              Good call! I recently went to Rhong-Tiam with a Thai friend (whose father is a chef) who has not thought much of Thai food available in Manhattan. She thought this was very good as well as authentic. Not much in the way of ambiance but a tasty dining experience.

                              1. re: City Kid

                                I agree....my staple favorite - and the only place you can order (to my knowledge anyway) great Kao Soi noodle soup. Sripraphai is a great food adventure, but common-dish-by-common-dish not much better than the good ones mentioned here.

                              2. re: angiebc290

                                i suggested it yesterday a few posts above