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Khao Kang in Elmhurst?

Anyone tried this Thai steam-table place near Ayada? http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/16/din...

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  1. My favorite Thai in the city. Very casual, home style. 3 dishes over rice for $8.15 after tax. Complimentary self service lemon water

    1. Good place. Go for the Hor Mok (Sundays only) and the stewed pork belly.

      5 Replies
      1. re: Polecat

        Thanks, Polecat. It's nice to get actual recommended dishes.
        I'll definitely try it on a Sunday for the Hor Mok.
        That corner is "Little Thailand" with Ayada, Spicy Shallot, and Tea Cup, not to mention the Mai Thai Liquor Store

        1. re: el jefe

          And Sugar Club is not that far up Broadway.

          1. re: el jefe

            Also, Pata Paplean, the funky little bar next door to Tea Cup, serves up some formidable noodle soups on the weekends. 4 bucks each. One bowl's a snack, two's a meal. The tom yum is excellent.

            1. re: el jefe

              To the left of Tea Cup a few doors is a small but good Thai market similar to Sugar Club.

          2. I did take out this winter, two dishes that long siting on a steam table would not hurt, the stewed pork belly w/ tofu and a bamboo shoot dish. Both nice, but their business card is really fantastic.

            1. yah i read this review and was thinking the same thing...sounded good

              1 Reply
              1. re: Lau

                Lau trust me its outstanding

              2. Excellent little spot. Took everyone's advise and hit the place on Saturday. For someone like me that loves Thai curry and always has a hard time deciding which one to choose, this was heaven. I had three:
                1. Panang Curry with pork. Mild and classic panang curry taste.
                2. Green with little slices of eggplant and chicken on the bone with skin, cut into small bite sized pieces. Incendiary and delicious.
                3. Sour curry. Can't remember the last time I had the stones to order this one. It came as the NYT article points out, in its own styrofoam cup. Beads of sweat rapidly formed. It had large slices of a yellow (stained from the curry?) vegetable, no idea what it was. What is beyond incendiary? I don't know but this is it.

                As I walked in another customer leaving had a beer in a bag. He told me that they didn't say a word about it to him. I then grabbed a beer from the bodega a few doors down.
                This place easily slides into the Thai rotation, particularly when I'm feeling like a curry is what I need. And when I feel cheap.

                1. Went a few days after the NYT review came out. The lady behind the counter was very friendly, first asking us if we wanted spicy or non-spicy, and then directing us to the appropriate dishes. Picked 2 spicy dishes and 4 non-spicy. Enjoyed all except for the spicy sour bamboo shoot dish (probably just not for our tastes). Our favorite was a fried pork dish (non-spicy). It was sweet yet also had some other flavors. Maybe anise or cinnamon or something else. Also got a couple of desserts that the server was very enthusiastic about. One had green tapioca and coconut milk, the other was a dessert with a layer of jello and a layer of brown cream (with coconut, I think). I didn't enjoy them (I'm not a big dessert person) but my friend did.

                  1. Quick review: Based on the recommendations on CH, I made my way to Khao Kang. The decor is stylistically minimalist, tasteful and unpretentious, much like the food. "Rustic" modern, clean and charming, I think it's one of the best looking Thai places in Queens, albeit small.

                    The steam trays are numerous, 12 items to choose from and they rotate dishes. I tried the sour pork, penang pork, ginger chicken, pork belly, swordfish.

                    Sour pork was delicious but perhaps an acquired taste, it's astringent, tender and redolent with ginger.

                    Penang pork, excellent rendition of penang, complex, spicy as described, a medium that neither sears my mouth or leaves me wondering if there is any heat.

                    Ginger chicken - mildly flavored but still a step above your typical Thai takeout. Chicken was not tough, heavy on the onions. Could use more ginger.

                    Pork belly - sweet, sticky, flavorful and tender, delicious but too sweet for my taste.

                    Swordfish - layering of spices, really delicious, tender fish.

                    The only issue I had with the food is that the temperature was warm, not hot.

                    Desserts - tried the pandan jelly, too much gelatin and too sweet, was like eating tendon.

                    pumpkin cake dessert was much less sweet, very dense, not unpleasant but the version at Sripraphai is superior.

                    Overall, tremendous value, highly recommended. The food in general is very well spiced. The place is clean, attractive and the staff is friendly and warm.

                    12 Replies
                    1. re: Pookipichu

                      Meant to write pork jerky, not pork belly. Went back today and tried the steamed tilapia in banana leaf. The fish is boneless, loosely packed in a banana leaf, moderately spicy, wonderfully flavored, predominant kaffir lime. However, the fish comes wrapped in aluminum foil inside the banana leaf and the foil imparts a slightly metallic flavor that is unpleasant.

                      1. re: Pookipichu

                        nice review sounds good but not amazing is that fair?

                        1. re: Lau

                          Yes, that's fair, it's a great neighborhood place but I wouldn't say it's a destination restaurant since Thai restaurants in Manhattan have recently stepped up their game and there's not much else to see/do in that neighborhood other than eat. That being said, it's the type of restaurant that would be mobbed if it were located in Brooklyn or Manhattan, but in Queens, contends with stiffer competition from Sriprahai, Ayada, Zabb Elee, etc. It's a great value and the spicing is on-point.

                          1. re: Pookipichu

                            yah that sounds fair...i'd still like to try it though

                            1. re: Pookipichu

                              Overall I would say excellent,for what it serves. Not quite amazing though as you can get this dishes as good other places. Just can't get them this way or this inexpensively. Poo do you think a place like this, particularly at this price point and allowing customers to bring their own alcohol could open, let alone survive in Manhattan or Brooklyn?

                              1. re: stuartlafonda

                                I'd say yes to both BK and Manhattan. It all depends on rent, there are Sunset Park restaurants at a similar price point and places in Chinatown with low price points. I can think of multiple mediocre/awful Thai places in BK that charge more than Khao Kang and manage to do decent business. Song in Park Slope has some of the worst Thai food I've eaten in NY yet has a 4 rating on yelp and does very good business. Wondee in Hells Kitchen also has a 4 rating on yelp has been successful enough to become a mini-chain, yet has been completely mediocre for me. Something as simple as ginger chicken with onions is prepared more skillfully and tastes better at Khao Kang (even after sitting in a steam tray vs. prepared fresh at Wondee).

                                The kitchen/cooks at Khao Kang are excellent and the quality/value equation is strong, especially if you are a single diner or 2 people. The larger the group, the less value, because a) you can get full sized dishes at Sri or Ayada for $9-10 b) the selection at Khao Kang is limited to dishes that will survive a steam table.

                                PS - I can't edit my old post but I wanted to note that I asked the people at Khao Kang if they could make the banana leaf wrapped tilapia without foil (since you can taste the foil flavor) and I was told that the fish would not cook properly without the piece of foil inside the banana leaf, that perplexes me/doesn't make sense to me. The dish is so delicious and would be even better if not for the slight metallic taste from the foil.

                                1. re: stuartlafonda

                                  If a place as good as Khao Kang opened in Sunset Park, I don't know if they'd have any other customers, but I'd be there all the time! I'd probably get fat. The absence of any such thing in Brooklyn is probably good for my waistline.

                                  I've only been to Khao Kang once so far, but I thought it was GREAT. Thai food withstands the steam table treatment very well.

                                  1. re: Ike

                                    Now that I've been to Khao Kang a couple of times, I'd say that as a cheap eats Thai place, it is a destination restaurant . Based on the consistency of having well-balanced, excellent flavors, variety and price, all in a rather attractive, albeit small restaurant, if Khao Kang were in Manhattan or BK it would be hyped and mobbed.

                                    Pork belly with Chinese straw vegetable (kong xing tsai) was really delicious.

                                    1. re: Pookipichu

                                      If Khao Kang were in Manhattan or Brooklyn, prices would likely be a lot higher.

                                      I think it's good value for what it is, for 1-2 people to sample a variety of dishes and who don't need or want waiter service. If I lived or worked in this neighborhood, I would come here all the time. But, as you noted earlier, it's not really any cheaper per person than nearby Thai spots. So I wouldn't really view it as destination-worthy.

                                      1. re: churros

                                        I initially did not consider Khao Kang "destination-worthy" but I felt I was doing it a disservice in afterthought because places in Brooklyn like Egg, Pok Pok, Talde, et al are loosely considered as such.

                                        1. re: Pookipichu

                                          What does Egg have to do with any of these? And why is the comparison to modern restaurants in other boroughs rather than its Thai neighborhood peers?

                                          1. re: Peter Cuce

                                            It's my personal thought process, I'm not evaluating in a vacuum. Perhaps it seems strange or extraneous to you to mention Egg, but people travel from Manhattan and outside the borough to Egg because it is considered a "destination" restaurant so I use it as one of my references when I think of the overall quality of the experience regardless of the disparate cuisine.

                                            When I'm evaluating Khao Kang and thinking about whether it is good enough to be worth a schlep from outside the neighborhood, my initial impression was "no", but after eating there more and in the context of other restaurants like Egg, Pok Pok and other restaurants that are considered destination restaurants, I think I am judging too conservatively. I would encourage people to try Khao Kang because the value and quality is of a similar level. That is my point.

                                            Khao Kang offers a worthwhile and different experience from Sri and Ayada, Center Point, etc.

                        2. Checked this place out and ate some dishes on premises and took some others home. The curries lean toward watery side of consistency and the meat quality is whatever. Nothing mind blowing. Had the Penang and some green curry- neither of which really popped with flavor and freshness like good restaurant versions, but were fine for what they were. The spiciest dish, the jungle curry, hits you with that back of the throat really hot spicy and the typical kind of ruddy "jungle" taste. Lots of rice is essential. The shrimp with string beans was alright. Most of the dishes are pretty oily, but they are assertively spiced and come in sour and herbal varieties, not just sweet. And they heap on the rice for you.

                          This place is just quick and easy and cheap. Reminds me of small cafeterias you find in or near bus/train stations in Thailand. It's a solid value spot. I might eat here often if I lived in the neighborhood but I don't think it's worth a detour from the restaurants nearby. Maybe if you want cheap Thai takeout for your lunch the next day, you could swing by after your sitdown meal. Or if you are in the area shopping. Actually, I might check it out for the hor mok on a weekend next time I hit up HK Market....I don't think they actually make their own desserts, but I could be wrong...

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Silverjay

                            Had about the same response. I liked all the spicy dishes and didn't care for the non-spicy dishes. My husband was nonplussed by everything. Not bad, not amazing, still prefer Sripraphai by a wide margin.

                            1. re: Silverjay

                              I just ate in one of those cafeteria places in Thailand. It wasn't small, though, and the dish choices were numerous. What I liked about it was there were dishes that I hadn't seen on restaurant menus and hadn't had before, like a delicious green bean curry in a sort of sour curry sauce. If Khao Kang is offering dishes that aren't on other Thai menus, that would be a plus.

                              Also, how would a vegetarian fare there? Need to be able to feed the vegetarian for a family meal. She would probably be willing to eat the sauce from a curry if they would leave off the meat for her. Are there a lot of vegetable options or would they be able to give her scoops of things without the meat?

                              1. re: missmasala

                                There's usually been (only one) at least one vegetarian option. I wouldn't say the restaurant is super vegetarian friendly. There is usually also a vegetable and egg option.

                                The flavors of the dishes are distinct and there is a deft hand with the spices. It's definitely worth a trip, the food is a great value and offers something unique to the Thai food scene. The dishes rotate quite a bit and in the 4 times I've been there now, there have been new dishes each time.

                                1. re: Pookipichu

                                  I don't think there is meat in the jungle curry or if there is, it can be avoided...Both my friend and I found the food very oily. Didn't sit so well with either of us next day. I'll definitely be back for the variety of dishes and price, but I'm not as enthusiastic as you it seems....Now the khao mun gai shop up the street, that is a place I am a little more enthusiastic about.

                                  1. re: Silverjay

                                    The kitchen at Khao Kang changes up the dishes frequently, they've had chicken in the jungle curry. They switch up the proteins. I have however seen pork penang in every visit.

                                    I haven't found the food any oilier than other well-regarded Thai places in the neighborhood and I actually found certain dishes have a lightness to them like the ginger chicken I had in my first visit, not as greasy as your typical Manhattan Thai stir-fry.

                                    My level of enthusiasm increased from moderate to enthusiastic after the first few visits, I was better able to evaluate my overall experience. I am going to emphasize that my enthusiasm is in context and is large part tied to the value of the food. I've eaten at the Wondees, Pam, Jaiya, Rhong Thiam, Kin Shop., Zabb etc. nowhere in Manhattan can I get a generous plate of 3 distinctly and authentically spiced, Thai dishes, well-balanced in flavor, for $7.50. I've found the steam table food at Khao Kang better than food made to order at other places.

                            2. I recently went to Ran Kanom Thai Noodle(see SF board), I'm mentioning it because like Khao Kang it has steam tables, which I have a stupid prejudice about, so I thought some of my less than bib enthusiasm for Khao Kang wasa due the the use of steam tables.
                              The excellence of Ran Kanom, even with steam tables clarified my mind

                              1. Interesting article and positive mention of Khao Kang.