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Zaab-Elee, new Thai in the east village, now the best Thai in NYC, perhaps.

Opened just a few days ago I have the pleasure to announce a new contender for best Thai in Manhattan: Zaab - Elle.

Located on 2d Avenue and about 4th street, it is the new occupant of what previously had been Le Da Nang. The spot is relatively small, narrow, pretty, and comfortable. After having visited most all the "contenders" for best Thai in Queens (SRI, Chao Thai, Ayada, etc) we thought Zaab-Elle is right up there with them, and better on a few dishes.

Apparently either "the chef," or "one of the chefs" from Zaab Queens has opened this branch. Which of the two scenarios was a bit unclear. The menu is pure Isaan food, from the northern part of Thailand. Thus, there are essentially no noodle dishes (except in the soups), no pad thai or similar, no spring rolls or dumplings or the like. That does take some getting used to and we saw the very sweet staff explaining this to most every table. Although the menu does have some photos, in truth, the dishes can be a bit hard to figure out. They also have a full bar (martinis are $7, I guess you gotta offer them in this neighborhood) and a good inexpensive wine and beer selection.

We ordered quite a number of salad-like dishes. The bbq pork with chilis, onion, mint, etc. was superb. Likely the best we have had outside Thailand. Large portions. Low prices, we thought. Their papaya salad with shrimp and pork likewise was excellent, as was another of their shrimp salads served at room temperature. We asked for the food "pet," spicy. The waitress asked, "are you sure, you mean like Thai spicy, Thai medium?" We said "absolutely." In any event, we eat a lot of spicy food and two of the dishes we had were incendiary. At the end of the meal one of the waitresses said, "we never really see locals eat dishes Thai spicy." While I hate to admit it, we dialed back on our next round of dishes, but we did finish the ones on fire too. They also do not really have coconut-based curry dishes. Thus, no red or green curries. I'm not sure they have any duck dish either. But, their dry curries were excellent. One, another pork dish, we all thought was just superb. The dishes are even prettily presented. A large noodle soup (a few broths to choose from), was similar to a well developed Pho, maybe a bit sweeter, with good rice noodles. We ordered a grilled calamari dish which for us was the one clunker. Likely just not to our taste, though the cilantro dipping sauce was excellent.

In terms of kitchen and staff, we saw a number of women working in the kitchen in the back; the food came out quickly. The staff could not be nicer. It was obvious they were focused on us having a good meal and enjoying the food.

In sum, we may now have a reason not to travel to Queens for Thai food so often. This place is not dumbing down their food for farangs and hopefully that will remain the case. Whether they can avoid adding a pad thai we will have to see. We can't wait to go back.

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Zabb Elee
75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

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  1. Thanks for this. Apparently ownership didn't even change - http://blogs.villagevoice.com/forkint... - they just switched names, dropped the Vietnamese menu and went back to their Isaan roots. Wonder how it compares to Zabb Elee on Roosevelt.

    BTW here's an EV Grieve post with a couple of pics (you can sort of make out the menu) ... http://evgrieve.com/2011/03/on-second...

    1 Reply
    1. re: squid kun

      Yes, that is indeed the spot, and the menu. Indeed, the menu they provide is much like the one in the window -- but smaller. A number of photos of the dishes. But, due to the lighting and the fact that the photos are not right next to the names of the dishes, as in SRI for example, it takes time to figure out the dishes.

      Ironically, the table that sat down next to us, when handed the menus, asked, "did you change the menu?" They did not realize upon entering that Le Da Nang had closed and Zaab had opened. After much discussion they decided to stay, and seemed pleased. They too got the explanation: "Isaan food, no noodles, etc....

    2. interesting...same owners at the Zabb on 13th St?...

      4 Replies
      1. re: Simon

        Don't know, but I suspect not. I think Zabb City was opened by the owners of Zabb Queens before Zabb Queens (now Zabb Elee) changed hands a while ago.

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        Zabb City
        244 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003

        1. re: squid kun

          ok...i will try Zabb-Elee soon :)

          1. re: Simon

            went tonight...a very exciting meal: actual yummy fish-saucey Isaan in Manhattan -- for the first time ever...will report details later, but this is the best (and only authentic) Isaan being served in Manhattan...

        2. re: Simon

          Hope not. The Zaab on 13th is dismal.

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          Zabb City
          244 E 13th St, New York, NY 10003

        3. Very good news! Many thanks for your report..will get there very soon.

          Guess the name comes from this place:

          http://www.bangkokpost.com/food/resta...

          1. I'm going with a group tonight. Any additional must-haves? Thanks.

            1. Ate here for the first time this evening. I was dining solo so I only had a duck larb with some very good sticky rice. It was very fresh and complex tasting with a very light hand on the sugar, unlike all the other thai restaurants in NYC. This looks like the perfect spring/summer food. Definitely returning soon to try the rest of the menu!

              Sadly, both tables to either side of me asked if they served Pad Thai...

              2 Replies
              1. re: polimorfos

                why is that sad? pad thai is a dish ubiquitous across thailand.

                1. re: thew

                  it's sad because Zabb Elee is trying to make a go of it by serving authentic Isaan food, and pad thai is not Isaan...it's kind of like if someone walked into a Mexican restaurant that was serving Oaxacan seafood and asked for beef tacos...

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                  Zabb Elee
                  75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003