HOME > Chowhound > Manhattan >


Somtum Der (East Village)

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Wow, thanks for the link. This sounds like the real deal. Zaab Elee really wasn't the real deal. I hope this guy puts out food like he says he does. I will try and report back. I have fond memories of the food I've had in Yasothon, and Khon Kaen.

    10 Replies
    1. re: foodwhisperer

      How are Zaab Elee and Pok Pok not the real deal according to you?

      1. re: Silverjay

        Yes, I'm curious too. Zabb Elee seems pretty "real" to me.

        1. re: Silverjay

          Zaab Elee has excellent Laab, and it is the real deal in that regard. Other dishes are lacking by a longshot. Not same taste of food I had while in Issan, nor what Issan girlfriend cooked. It's been awhile so I forget which dishes I liked other than the laab. but there was a terrible duck dish and a bad pork dish I had.
          Pok Pok's Khao Soi, which is the signature dish of Chiang Mai ,is not even close to what it should be. Uncle Boon's is much closer to what it should be. Pok Pok's lacked taste.
          Other dishes were good. Their laab was good but that's not really a Chiang Mai dish, their pig ear is great, their whole fish is really good. the papaya salad is very good. Maybe, it's kind of the real deal , and the servers turned me off a bit. But so did the Khao soii. The grilled chicken at Ngam is very good and very Chiang Mai, maybe because the chef is from there.

          1. re: foodwhisperer

            I haven't been to Issan to compare, but I quite like the Som Tum at Zabb. What do you think of it? I also have really liked every fish dish I've had there, especially the Larb Pla Krob and the special of the whole fried fish with the basil sauce.

            It sounds like the Som Tum at Somtum Der is a small portion that includes noodles and is sweet to boot, which I thought was a major no-no. Will have to try it soon regardless.

            1. re: loratliff

              The first page is totally the real deal and the principal appeal of both Zabb in EV and in Queens. I never really order beyond it. Variety and quality of som tum and laab are great. They use pla ra and real long bean (not string bean) in som tum and some offal in the laab, which is all rare here. And they will pound the shit out of as many chilis as you ask them. They are inconsistent according to a trusted source, although I haven't had any duds myself. The yang dishes are definitely inconsistent but can be really good here with a nice charcoal flavor and grilled crispy skin while still being juicy. It can be better at ZE than a lot of dry, gristley, and stringy street versions you'll get in Thailand.

              I went to Somtum Der the other night and tried about a half dozen dishes. I will write that up as soon as I get a chance.

              1. re: Silverjay

                in response to Loratiff, I do like the Som tum at Zaab Elee.
                Silverjay you say they use pla ra, I tasted what seemed to be more nam pa (nam pla). In Issan they use the really stinky one.Just like in Phillipines they use the bagoong isda, which is made same way as pla ra and stinks so much. Usually not served in restaurant because of the smell, more of a home ingredient. But I love it and cannot find it here. Occasionally I get someone to bring it back from Phillipines. As far as the Fried fish in basil sauce, I find that to be more of BKK type dish, fried fish I eat in Issan they like nam pa with it, or make som pla (sour fish). But I can be wrong, it's just my experience.
                I noticed the restaurant menu at Larb Ubol, has dishes that sound authentic Issan. But what bothered me is that the menu says for instance kai larb, i've always heard it said as larb (laab) kai. So it made me skeptical when seeing written that way, I'll try all the places eventually. And I look forward to reading Silverjays review of Somtum Der.
                btw the som tum at Ngam is very good and they make it in front of you.

                1. re: foodwhisperer

                  Huh? They use pla ra in the som tum at Zabb Elee. They translate as "pickled fish". If you want it funkier or fishier, I'm sure you can request it that way. It's just a matter of adding another spoonful or two. If you order the one called "som tum Thai", they will just use nam pla.....You can buy pla ra at the Thai markets in Woodside/Elmhurst, as well as the one on Mosco in CT, Asia Market on Mulberry, and maybe at Tan Tin Hung, which is a Viet market on Bowery. I mean even Hong Kong or big Chinese markets might have it too...I have some that I use at home. I bought it from the little market across from Ayada. The woman there, who is from Udon Thani I believe, told me she doesn't even like pla ra. Too stinky for her.

                  1. re: Silverjay

                    lol many people don't like pla ra because so stinky. same with filipino bagoong isda ( ilocano), The stuff is fermented for quite a long time. They usually do in ceramic pots and even bury them because of the smell. Thats why it is rare for a restaurant to use it. Pickled fish or sour fish is som pla. ( som pa). I will look in queens doe pla ra, i know for bagging isda i have to get it from Ilocos , Phils

                    1. re: foodwhisperer

                      It's pla ra. Somtum Der also use it. They just translated it loosely as pickled fish. Follow my advice if you want to get your hands on it. There are several jarred and bottled brands to choose from.

                      1. re: Silverjay

                        i will surely take your advice and get some. thanks

      2. And another thank you. The menu looks & sounds great!

        1. This is not encouraging:


          but I still intend to check it out for myself. There's a lot on the menu that appeals to me.

          2 Replies
          1. re: small h

            Yes, I saw that.

            I think that report was something like a week after the place opened. Newness should not be an excuse for bad food or poor service, but it is more often than not an inevitable symptom.

            1. re: ipsedixit

              Service wasn't bad...portions were just very small and everything lacked heat...i hope they adjust and prosper...

          2. I ate here about a week ago and enjoyed it - was thinking about making a thread myself but didn't get around to it. I like it a lot more than Zabb Elee which has been disappointing the past few times I've been. It is the NY branch of a restaurant in Bangkok, which is pretty exciting, no?

            We had the Tum Suo Der (house papaya salad), Moo Ping Kati Sod (pork skewers) and Larb Moo (pork salad).

            The papaya salad was a bit different from the som tum that I'm used to as it had noodles, and actually wasn't overly spicy - surprising since papaya salad is usually one of the spiciest dishes. I'm sure they can make it spicy if you ask.

            I really liked the pork skewers - delicious marinade and dipping sauce.

            I also liked the larb moo and I think their version is much better than the one at Zabb Elee. Spicier, tangier, basically better in all regards.

            The decor is pretty nice too. They have a picture menu which is very helpful if you are like me and order food based on what it looks like:

            Hoping to go back soon and try more of the menu, but it is definitely worth a visit.

            2 Replies
            1. re: pravit

              I just went for the second time tonight and I liked everything I ordered - tum poo plara, fried chicken, duck larb, pork skewers again, and gaeng om kai (chicken soup). Loved the fried chicken with the dipping sauce in particular, and the chicken soup. The som tum was pretty fiery today.

            2. I liked it too, but the service was crap (they were slammed and it was soft opening, so take that as you will) and the food was inconsistently spiced (some things really fiery, some not). Generally though, the food was quite good and the portions were fair for what they charge. Yes the portions are small, but I think nothing is over $12. You could order 2 or 3 things plus rice and stuff yourself for under $40. Good luck with that at Uncle Boons.

              1 Reply
              1. re: deprofundis

                i agree that Uncle Boons is wildly overpriced...but on a solo lunch at Som Tam Der i spent 33 bucks and left starving...i hope they increase the portions, because that price pt will not work in the EV

              2. I went about 10 days ago.

                I arrived at 11:40am and they were still not open (It's supposed to be open from 11:30am) because the employee who has the door key was late. So I was waiting together with the staff in front of the locked door, lol. Finally some one arrived with the key at 12pm. My server gave me a 10% discount later as an apology. lol

                Food was generally good and tasty. Good prices too. But I thought Zaab Elee was slightly better.

                1. So, what is the best Thai in the city?

                  9 Replies
                  1. re: jilkat25

                    Check out some of the million other threads on this.

                    1. re: Peter Cuce

                      the threads do change though. Chefs leave etc. new places open. Personally I think there are best places for certain dishes. i.e. at uncle boon's i like the mieng kum (betel lead wrap with ginger, lime, toasted coconut, dried shrimp,chills and peanuts)

                      1. re: foodwhisperer

                        Yeah, it comes down to individual dishes.

                        1. re: foodwhisperer

                          If that question is going to be asked it's best not to bury it in a thread dedicated to a specific restaurant. It dilutes the thread and the city wide information will be hidden.

                          1. re: Bob Martinez

                            OK, good advice! Will start a new tread. Thanks!

                            1. re: jilkat25

                              Because it will be more visible you'll get a better response.

                              1. re: Bob Martinez

                                For real, Bob. I would love the latest news! I posted a new thread question. You guys always give great responses! I appreciate every one!

                                1. re: jilkat25

                                  Be sure you also post on the Outer Boroughs board. Some of the best Thai places are in Queens.

                                  1. re: Bob Martinez

                                    I'm wondering if the comparisons to Zaab Elee are comparing the Manhattan branch or the Queens branch. While I haven't eaten at the Manhattan location, I've been very satisfied with the Queens branch (and I've spent over a month in N Laos in the past year).

                    2. Had the following dishes:

                      Tum Thai Kai Kem- This is sum tum Thai with salted egg. I told the guy I had recently come back from Thailand and prefer it spicy and asked for 4-5 chilis. He said he understood. The salad did indeed have that many chilis, however they were whole and not pounded and minced into the dish. So it was quite mild. They use Stewie Griffin shaped limes and not the little round Persian limes that I recall at Zabb Elee. I'm sure that makes some kind of subtle difference....I didn't get any of the salted egg. Was snagged up by others.

                      Sai krok Isan- This is fried Isan fermented sausage. Nice portion size. The guy said they make them in-house. Didn't really have the tang I was expecting. While it's a completely different sausage, the sai ua sausages I had at Pok Pok a few weeks earlier, although criminally expensive, blew these away. Those puppies just popped with their ingredients. These, not so much.

                      Moo rong hai der- Grilled marinated pork. This was everyone's favorite. Nicely done with char and juiciness. Good dipping sauce too.

                      Goong chae nam pla- Thai prawn sashimi. This was alright. Nothing wrong with it. I prefer this at Sriphaphai where the garlic, chili, lime, is all minced and integrated better.

                      Yum krai tra sardine- this is a little minced sardine type of salad made with tomato and lemongrass. A little soggy in dressing, but this is a cool dish.

                      …and we had a couple of larb, which were fine, though unspectacular.

                      They seem to be pushing the fried chicken- which certainly has a handsome picture on the menu. I’d like to try that next time. It’s a differentiator from Zabb. The sardine dish and couple of other fish items are appealing non-overlapping items as well.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Silverjay

                        Yeah, leaving the chilis whole and not pounding/mashing-in, is lame...it's the kind of thing they do at non-Isaan places like Sri...me, i would have sent it back and told them to remix it...

                        I also like sai-ua better than sai-krog isaan...

                        1. re: Silverjay

                          The sardine dish sounds like something I really want to try there. It sounds like the sai krok didn't sit long enough to ferment. Was there a noticeable amount of rice in the sausage? I like those sausages. Lately i'm more used to Filipino sausage which is totally the opposite in taste.

                          1. re: Silverjay

                            I decided to double down on these guys and I'm glad I did. Had a really terrific meal.

                            I skipped all the somtum and larb.

                            Yum krai tra sardine- I enjoyed this even more the second time around. The pieces of sardine were a little larger, fishy, and briny. Nice complement to dressing. Plenty of fresh chilies.The fishiness makes me feel like this is a cross between Japanese and Isaan cuisine.

                            Yum crispy leaf fish- Nicely fried chunks of leaf fish, which aren't done to a completely indiscriminate bit of crunch, mixed with a ton of freshly chopped lemongrass and finished with a spicy dressing. The lemongrass really makes this dish. Nice change of pace from usual "fried bits of something with mango/ onions/ cilantro/ mint".

                            Grilled pork and fried chicken (moo rong hai der & sa poak kai tod der)- These were awesome. The pork is tender, marinated, and very nice balance of juiciness, flavor, and grill char. Bits of a fried garlic on top as well. The tangy dipping sauce is good too....The chicken is a deep fried thigh with bits of garlic and the same dipping sauce. Fantastic with....

                            Beer Lao- both light and dark. Yippee!

                            All the above was awesome. No real overlap with Zabb Elee.

                            Reconfirmed that the sai krok Isan (the fried sausage) is skippable. Doesn't pop at all.

                            The goong chae nam pla (the prawn sashimi/ ceviche) was better this time. Another non-overlapper with ZE worth considering.

                            I'll definitely be back... For a meal of somtum and laab, I'll stick with ZE. For a bit more beer drinking and group friendly food and seating, Somtum Der will do the trick.

                              1. re: Silverjay

                                Adding another dish that I really like here- the gaeng om kai. It's an Isan/ Lao style chicken soup packed with interesting flavors.

                                It's actually like a combination chicken soup and sour curry. There's a sweet, sour, salty thing going on and that is all punctuated by fresh herbs- the most prominent being dill. The flavor is rich and I have a hard time deconstructing it. I know it has chicken broth, pla ra, pretty sure there is tamarind, and I'm not sure what else. The bowl is packed full with Thai eggplant quarters, chunks of cabbage, some green, and sliced chilies. The chicken is in hacked boney nubs with not a lot of meat. So I wouldn't go into it looking for a protein boost. But the broth and the veggies are worth it all. It's warming and rich and feels like a satisfying complete meal in itself.

                                1. re: Silverjay

                                  ah nice, im in process of writing about somtum der...ill give it a try and add it to the list

                            1. I've been to Somtum Der three times now. I spent two weeks in Thailand last year, which hardly makes me an expert on Thai food, but I know a little bit. I think Somtum Der is a good addition to the local Thai choices.

                              The first night, I had the Somtum Thai style (dried shrimps etc) with two peppers. Spicy for the average person maybe, but I felt like I could go hotter. I was very happy with the Somtum. Larb Moo (pork) was good, perhaps not as funky as Zabb Elee (no liver, for one thing). Nice amount of aromatic herbs. Not the best Larb I've eaten in my life, but delicious nonetheless. Dining room was full (weekend), so I ate at the counter in front.

                              I went back for their lunch special, and got the deep fried chicken thigh, and Somtum Thai (yes, again - it's one of my favorite Thai dishes). The chicken thigh was excellent, with the deep fried garlic bits strewn on top, and the dipping sauce was simple but excellent. The Somtum seemed like it was pre-prepared, which seemed odd because it looked like somebody was working the Somtum station. Only a few people eating lunch there on a weekday.

                              The most recent trip was a weeknight, restaurant was half full. I ordered the Larb Ped (duck) and the Somtum Poo Pla Ra (with field crabs). This was me being adventerous, as I usually don't care much for duck (it's okay) when it's prepared as a roast, or Peking style (etc). Larb Ped was good though, and I enjoyed it. The Som Tum Poo was a little too hardcore for me due to the pieces of field crabs. They are crunchy, and it got to be a tough slog for me. Well, I had the same reaction to baby crabs as 'pan chan' prepared Korean style. Lesson learned, crabs are not for me. The crabs weren't funky, they had a fresh briny taste (my issue was texture). This time I requested 3 peppers in the somtum, and that was spicy (but I think I will shoot for 4 next time).

                              I had sticky rice all three visits - good. Iced coffee with milk was good, and a floral iced tea was also good. The staff seem very nice, and they seemed friendly and attentive to me. The menu is somewhat more limited in comparison to Sriphipahai and Zabb Elee, but there is still a lot to choose from, and I know that I will almost always want Somtum anyway, no matter what else I order.

                              One more comment - this restaurant is authentic Thai, and Zabb Elee is as well. I find the comments regarding 'authenticity' unfortunate, and I wonder if non-Thai restaurants are scrutinized in this way. I guess it's a result of all the bland Thai restaurants we've all tried in the past, where the menu was heavily modified for American palates. Anyway, in my opinion folks need to realize that everybody prepares dishes differently (as you would expect with every other cuisine) and that's obviously true even in Thailand. But if you encountered a dish with a different preparation style in Thailand, would you say that the restaurant is "not the real deal" or "not authentic"? i don't think so. You'd just say you like that dish better when it's prepared somewhere else.

                              One last thing - somebody suggested that Somtum Der makes their somtum using noodles - they do not, except for the "house style" has deep fried noodles in the mix (I believe they have 8 styles to choose from, and that's the only one with noodles).

                              Anyway, it's worth a visit, IMO.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: K2000

                                Interesting. Thanks for your perspective, and nice well thought out review.

                              2. I made a visit last night. For lack of better words, underwhelmed.

                                Don't get me wrong. The food was authentic (i have been to Thailand couple times; different regions, including the northeastern region - Isan). But let's not be fooled; authentic does not equal "tastes good". I am bench-marking to the food I had in Chiang Mai and to Zabb Elee, another Isan restaurant in the city. My point is, you cannot just mix all the right ingredients together and think you will make a good dish. It dose not work that way. There are preparations need to done properly before and during the cooking to make the magic happen, 1+1>2. Here, at Somtum Der, it's just not happening, 1+1 <2.

                                I had tried four dishes:
                                Goong chae nam pa: Prawn sashimi in green chili sauce

                                Tum Poo Plara: Green papaya salad in fermented fish sauce and pickle crab.

                                Tom Saab Kradook On: cartilage soup with lemongrass and mushrooms.

                                Pad Thai Mum Poo: Pad thai with crab paste and crabmeat and crispy basil.

                                I have a full review on Yelp, if you need more details.

                                1. Visited about a month ago when they were still in "soft opening" phase with a rather large group. I really enjoyed the larb and papaya salads, which tasted fresh and were not docile at all with their use of spices and peppers. The noodle dishes I tried (Pad Ki Mao and Pad Thai with Crabmeat) were served hot and were similarly tasty.

                                  Service was the major letdown here, though. Some of us had finished eating our entrees before others even got theirs, and they charged us for dishes that we never ordered or recieved. Hopefully they've gotten better with the crowds since then.

                                  1. Beer Lao light AND dark. That's a good reason to trot over there for a few beers. I don't think there's a country in the world whose major beer manufacturer makes a product as good as Beer Lao. Lucky to have it in NY since it's almost impossible to find in Thailand, even in the border towns.

                                    1. I had a quick dinner at Somtum Der last night, the Tom Poo-Plara, black sticky rice, and two Beer Laos (one light, one dark - dark is better). I liked the salad quite a bit, and wouldn't change a thing about the balance of flavors. But it was a little small and, in my opinion, too wet. The texture of the crab legs was a bit off-putting, although I liked how they tasted. This was my second time eating raw crab, and it went a lot better than the first (which I don't even like to think about). I asked for three-pepper hot, and that's what I received: hot enough to force me to eat slowly, but not so hot that I felt tormented.

                                      I ordered black sticky rice because I'm not crazy about white sticky rice. And now I know I'm not crazy about black sticky rice, either, but at least it's not as gummy as the white. The service from my male server was fine. The female hostesses, or whatever the hell they're supposed to be, are pretty clueless. Bonus points for the awesome Thai versions of 70's pop songs on the sound system. I left wondering about the translation of Play That Funky Music, White Boy. Thai boy? Tan boy?

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: small h

                                        I made another visit a few days ago, this time to get takeout. The person taking my order adamantly recommended the tom klong pla dook yang (grilled catfish soup), so I went with that. The fish was a lot less bony than a similar dish I had at Zaab Elee, so bonus points for that, and the soup was nicely spicy and sour. But the most striking thing about it was how much inedible stuff it contained - I got two meals out of it but was left with at least a cup of ginger slices, lemongrass, and hot peppers. Also fish bones, but I expected that.

                                          1. re: Lau

                                            Great report. From what I gather, the food is in general less spicy than Zaab Elee--correct?

                                            1. re: swannee

                                              Same. Just depends on what you order and how you order it. They are serving food from the same region and menu overlaps a lot.

                                              1. re: swannee

                                                originally i wouldve said yes but at some point ZE turned down their standard spiciness. you just need to tell them how you like it and they'll do it

                                            2. The standard line I use is Lao, Thai, etc spicy, not NYC spicy. They almost always get it.