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Thai Restaurants in Manhattan Galore but where is the real thing (please advise)

jonkyo Jan 5, 2012 09:02 PM

I have been so displeased with Thai restaurants here in the states or anywhere for that matter, simply due to the fact that these places are riding on some trendy tsunami (no pun intended) and all that I can see, taste, and pay for, fail in horrific ways.

Thai food, not too recently gave into to countering my oath to never eat Thai cuisine in the states, and one of the horrible residue flavors that permeated this dish I ordered was sugar.

And a second note, the kitchen could not provide results for a request for fresh, raw chopped chili. The wait staff had to walk to the outside front of the restaurant to the side of the enterence, pinch off a number of chilis from the potted display chili plant, rush to the kitchen, have the kitchen staff cut them up, then return with a skimp portion of cut chili for me, a paying customer, from the ornament outside the restaurant door.

I would expect a Thai establishment to have raw chilis on hand. I suppose not. Or the owner likes to make extra work for the wait staff, by having them run outside and collect chilis from a plant, resulting in a non-satisfactory portion for your dish. I suppose that is real fresh, plucking the chili from the ornament outside the restaurant, but still lacking in quantity. Next time I will bring my own plant lush with chilis for the wait staff to pluck, and I will be certain to join in.

The above restaurant was the second Thai venue visited since I decided to try them out. Both were Thai staffed and well decorated on the Southeast Asian theme but both failed in preparations that would be anything to note. Also the food more resembled Thai food in color not so much taste.

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  1. foodmonk RE: jonkyo Jan 6, 2012 06:18 AM

    Good Thai restaurants are in extremely short supply in Manhattan. Some years ago, Pam Real Thai had a good reputation for authentic-tasting Thai food. I have eaten occasionally at the Pam Real Thai Encore in the same neighborhood. It is better than your average Manhattan Thai slop, but I did not find it really exciting. The Wondee Siam chain is better than its neighbors, but I'm not sure that that is saying much.

    It's probably easier to be advised where NOT to go by Chowhounds for Manhattan Thai food. if you are looking for the real thing, avoid anything on 8th or 9th Aves. in Hell's Kitchen or Chelsea. That's not to say that you can't put together a satisfying and cheap meal at one of these places, but they mostly serve the same gloppy, sweet, oily concoctions.

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

    Pam Real Thai
    404 W 49th St, New York, NY 10019

    Pam Real Thai Encore
    402 W 47th St, New York, NY 10036

    3 Replies
    1. re: foodmonk
      foodmonk RE: foodmonk Jan 6, 2012 06:21 AM

      I think that ultimately the problem with getting authentic Thai food in New York is the same as other types of Southeast Asian food here: There just aren't a lot of Thai, Vietnamese, etc. people living in New York City. Unlike Chinese cuisine, there isn't an immigrant population demanding a lot of authentic foods from these regions. I've had far better Vietnamese food in Boise, Idaho, than in New York for this very reason.

      1. re: foodmonk
        jonkyo RE: foodmonk Jan 8, 2012 05:27 PM

        I think this demographic element is quite good, and correct.

        The Vietnamese here seems also to be a vogue trend, and many fail.

        I will book my flight for Boise soon, thanks. jest

      2. re: foodmonk
        jonkyo RE: foodmonk Jan 8, 2012 05:24 PM

        Agree. Both places went were on 9th ave and when I was more looking for atmopere to chill for a while with blistering hot food to munch on. Nice atmosphere but no burning hot dishes and yes, slop glop and sweet.

        Thank you for the suggestions.

      3. Bob Martinez RE: jonkyo Jan 6, 2012 06:47 AM

        "I have been so displeased with Thai restaurants here in the states or *anywhere* for that matter..."


        There have been endless "there are no good XXXX restaurants in New York" threads but you have taken this to a whole other level.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Bob Martinez
          uwsister RE: Bob Martinez Jan 6, 2012 09:08 PM

          Thanks for your post.

          1. re: Bob Martinez
            jonkyo RE: Bob Martinez Jan 8, 2012 05:31 PM

            Anywhere: continental Europe, the US, UK, Republic of the Philippines (Manilla), PRC, ROC, Seoul (ROC), the moon and other celestial masses ...............others please add to list.

            1. re: jonkyo
              uwsister RE: jonkyo Jan 9, 2012 02:45 AM

              At least you didn't say Thailand.

              1. re: jonkyo
                Simon RE: jonkyo Jan 11, 2012 11:36 AM

                there is an excellent one in London/Hammersmith, a couple great Isaan places in Paris, and a half-decent one hidden in a Shanghai apt buidling that was initially created to feed the Thai consulate there...and many solid places in LA...

            2. n
              nmprisons RE: jonkyo Jan 6, 2012 06:49 AM

              In Manhattan, I enjoy Zabb Elee and, when I lived in Harlem, would often go to Thai Market for their khao soi. You will have much better luck in Queens (Ayada being my favorite).

              Thai Market
              960 Amsterdam Ave, New York, NY 10025

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

              1 Reply
              1. re: nmprisons
                jonkyo RE: nmprisons Jan 8, 2012 05:31 PM

                I will look to queens, and your recommends thanks.

              2. k
                kathryn RE: jonkyo Jan 6, 2012 09:44 AM

                Which two restaurants did you visit? You don't say in your post.

                1. s
                  Smithsd1 RE: jonkyo Jan 6, 2012 04:01 PM

                  Zabb Elee in LES has probably the best Som Tam in the city that is as good as most of Thailand. They also don't Farang you by making it not spicy. They offer a scale of 1 - 5. A four is Bangkok standard and a five is as hot as Isaan. Rest of the menu was average.

                  Pam's real Thai on 49th and 9th has a great variety of the usual Thai suspects. Pad Thai, Pad See Euw and Pad Kee Mow (spelling) are really good. I try and stay away from the specials as they often are pricey and a bit ketchup like.

                  Pam's room was a bit average but they have been closed for a brief time to renovate. Lets hope it comes out looking as good as Room Service which has a great room but average food.

                  Pam Real Thai
                  404 W 49th St, New York, NY 10019

                  Room Service
                  690 9th Ave, New York, NY 10036

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

                  1. j
                    jeff_pdx RE: jonkyo Jan 6, 2012 04:11 PM

                    Perhaps Pok Pok will satisfy you when it opens:


                    I've never been to Thailand so I can't weigh in on any authenticity-based arguments, but I can guarantee that Pok Pok is unlike every other Thai restaurant in Portland. Search the NYT as well for a recent write-up that they did when they tagged along with Andy Ricker on a trip to Thailand.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jeff_pdx
                      jeff_pdx RE: jeff_pdx Jan 6, 2012 04:13 PM

                      Crap, didn't realize that it's going to be in Brooklyn. Hope I don't get CH-disbarred for that transgression...

                    2. p
                      Pan RE: jonkyo Jan 6, 2012 04:21 PM

                      The "Secret Thai" menu - or better yet, the actual Thai-language menu, if the waiter admits its existence and lets you order from it - at the original Wondee is the best you'll get in Manhattan. If you want better, post to the Outer Boroughs board - which is what I think I recommend for you.

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

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: Pan
                        foodwhisperer RE: Pan Jan 7, 2012 08:47 PM

                        At Tom and Toon, if you get Toon to cook some Thai dishes for you , she will make it authentic. She is great at Thai cooking. I'm sorry she moved from Bleecker St. She is rarely at the new one on Park Ave South ( which isn't great).

                        Tom & Toon
                        241 W 51st St, New York, NY 10019

                        1. re: foodwhisperer
                          jonkyo RE: foodwhisperer Jan 8, 2012 05:39 PM

                          I will tell her the food whisperer sent me.

                          I am sure such requests should come after establishing a repoire. It could be rude but maybe not.

                          Thanks for that.

                          1. re: jonkyo
                            foodwhisperer RE: jonkyo Jan 10, 2012 08:08 PM

                            Toon doesnt know me by the name foodwhisperer, but just say a friend of hers, and that should be fine.

                        2. re: Pan
                          Dave Feldman RE: Pan Jan 8, 2012 05:32 PM

                          Have you really ever been refused the Thai menu at Wondee? I've never detected any anti-gringo attitude, at least at the first two Wondees, but just some disbelief that there is interest in it. If they aren't absolutely slammed, I've found most of the waitresses more than willing to help explain the Thai menu, if requested. That said, I can't be too enthusiastic about the food off of either (although I do remember a wonderful pork larb that I was served a couple of years ago at II, that I wrote about on CH).

                          1. re: Dave Feldman
                            Pan RE: Dave Feldman Jan 9, 2012 10:25 AM

                            The actual Thai-language menu is seldom offered to me, and yes, they have often denied its existence. The "Secret Thai" menu is shorter than the actual Thai-language menu, which in fact I've seen only once or twice. And it's unfortunate that I can't read Thai, because never would they actually spend the time to translate the entire Thai-language menu for me.

                          2. re: Pan
                            jonkyo RE: Pan Jan 8, 2012 05:35 PM

                            The secret menu does sound like an actuality. I will take your suggestion. I imagine that eating with the kitchen staff at these restaurants would be another option if possible that might old favor to those searching for real Thai.

                            1. re: Pan
                              uncledunkel RE: Pan Jan 14, 2012 07:37 AM

                              assume you have to ask for the secret menu? I've eaten there multiple times and enjoyed it, wonder how I missed this!

                              1. re: uncledunkel
                                Pan RE: uncledunkel Jan 14, 2012 02:14 PM

                                They sometimes offer the English-language "Secret Thai" menu without being asked, but do ask. You'll get food that is much tastier and less sweet. And see if you can get your waiter to offer something from the actual Thai-language menu.

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