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Jul 5, 2012 11:14 AM

Zabb Elee Queens

Last night, craving Thai food late, we ended up at Zabb Elee in Queens, which is conveniently open late (1 am on weekdays and 2 am on weekends). I hadn't been to this space since it changed hands a couple of years back, though I did enjoy the old Zabb, particularly their duck salad.

Anyway, expecting a mostly empty restaurant, I was totally surprised to walk in at 11:45 and find the place packed with young Thais. I felt transported to Bangkok, as everyone was chatting in Thai around me and the restaurant just seemed to have a Thai atmosphere that, say, Ayada doesn't have, no matter how good the food is.

And the food? It was excellent, easily the best Thai meal I've had in a while, and better than similar fare at Zabb Elee in the East Village.

We ordered the grilled shrimp salad, pak boong (i call it water spinach, but the menu called it swamp cabbage in English), sai oua sausage, and thai omelet with pork. Everything was topnotch. The dressing for the shrimp salad was spicy and sour and not marred by the sweetness that is too often present. The pak boong was excellent, best I've had in NYC. (The pak boong at the EV location runs a close second.) The sai oua was not the large, loose, kaffir lime accented sausage I was expecting, but was instead a roughly hewn smaller sausage. It was good, though I think I prefer the Esarn sausage on the menu. But what really made it were the peanuts which always accompany the sausage (along with ginger, red onion, and chili). These peanuts were fried until dark and fragrant and served hot. The omelet was also spot on—perfect texture, crispy on the outside, light on the inside.

The server never asked how hot we wanted our food (which I loved) but just to be safe I did tell him "phet phet" (very spicy) and everything had the right heat level.

My only quibble would be with the sticky rice, which is served in a plastic bag and not in the traditional container. Once you open the bag, the exterior of the rice ball hardens quickly.

I have no idea if the food is always this good there, or if you have to go when the place is packed with Thais. But it seems to me that if you like the Zabb Elee menu and you want it cooked the way it would be for Thais and not for Americans, then you should try the one in Queens.

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  1. Can you provide the address? Thanks!

    1 Reply
    1. re: Afikoman

      71-28 Roosevelt Ave, Jackson Heights, NY 11372

      This is a great little place, and it's been on upswing.

    2. Good report - the thing with the bag is that its designed to keep the rice from drying out - you just fold the bag over whats left to keep the rice from hardening. Im trying to remember ever getting sticky rice unbagged in thailand and can't recall. With som tam by the side of the road they would just fish out a sandwich bag full from a nearby cooler which kept it warm and at sit down places it was usually in a bag inside the traditional bamboo container.

      1 Reply
      1. re: tex.s.toast

        I also seem to recall getting the bag inside the bamboo cup at restaurants stateside.

      2. Have been here 5 or 6 times, always on a Sunday afternoon for lunch, have eaten 7 or 8 different dishes, always with the hopes that they'll wow me.

        The food has been fine, but I have yet to try something here that I dream of returning for. I've never felt that hankering, the way I do for, say, the seafood som tam at Ayada or the 3 Buddies Salad at Chao, to return to Zabb for something I've had before. The dishes I've had at Zabb have never approached that complexity and layer of flavor. Spicing hasn't been an issue, nor has pungency, sourness, or any of the other flavors that make this cuisine tick. A great many of the dishes I've tried here have been more one-note.

        When I started hitting up Zabb, it wasn't as crowded as it's been the last two or three times. The last time I went, a month ago or so, it was packed. And, yes, with Thais. It didn't make the food taste any better. Part of what draws me back is, naturally, the Esarn specialties; there is stuff on Zabb's menu you can't get anywhere else, like Snake Fish, for instance. I suspect that curiosity, coupled with your review and some of the dishes you mention, will draw me back yet again.


        7 Replies
        1. re: Polecat

          I assume what they meant by "Snake Fish" is some kind of eel. I googled snake fish and only came up with references to Snakehead Fish. I'm sure that's not what they are serving, although it is also possible that they may be trying to confuse people into thinking that it's real Snakehead. I love snakehead fish and eat it all the time in SE Asia.
          Fortunately, snakehead fish has been illegal in NYS since 2004 so I doubt Zabb is flaunting the law. I believe that mere possession is illegal so once the restaurant serves it to you, while it is on your plate, you would be committing the crime.

          1. re: el jefe

            Yeah, I figured. The one time I tried to order it, the waitress told me that it's for two diners or more, so whatever it is, they're serving up one big-ass faux snakefish.

            1. re: Polecat

              We go to Zabb Elee quite a bit because we live right around the block. They do a number of things quite well, especially the grilled meats. They also have the best papaya salad of any of the Thai restaurants around. Always perfectly balanced and if you ask for spicy they bring it quite spicy.

            2. re: el jefe

              I've had the snake fish there. I'm not sure what kind of fish it is.. I enjoyed it (it's very crispy) but my friend didn't. The closest fish I've had to it is mackerel, though it's not as fishy as mackerel. Even though I enjoyed it, it's something I wouldn't order again cause of their vast menu.
              They have the best seafood tom yung soup i've ever had, it is not on the menu but if you tell them they will back it for you. My favorite items there have been there salads..i love their shrimp salad and papaya salads. Everytime I go there I'd definitely order a salad. I've only been there 4 times but everytime I've gone they've asked me how spicy I want it on a 1-5 scale. 4 is very very spicy. BTW I've noticed that their salads tend to be spicier than their other dishes.For example, a spicy level 4 shrimp salad is spicier than a spicy level 4 duck larb.

            3. re: Polecat

              I assume you mean Isaan not Esam specialties

              1. re: foodwhisperer

                Isan, Issan, Esarn. I've seen it spelled a hundred ways in Thailand. Zabb's menu said "Esarn" so that's what I meant.

                1. re: missmasala

                  No problem. The transliteration of Thai words is somewhat fascinating , as the combination of letters sounds nothing like they are pronounced. One example is Hwe, it means hungry , sounds more like HYOO. Forgive my correcting, but I just wanted to make it clear it was Isaan, I've never seen it spelled Esam, but now that you mention it , it doesn't surprise me.

            4. IMHO, best Thai in NYC. Raw beef larb, crispy tilapia, always draw me back for more.