On the specials board at Ploy Thai, the pictures tell the story. The words are in Thai, but even people who can’t read them will get the general idea from the drawings: Cute little squid = fried or broiled squid, kidneys = sour/spicy entrails soup, cheery pig face = sautéed sour pork, and so on. bigjeff recommends miang kana, a wrap-it-yourself snack of crunchy dried pork, ginger, onion, chiles, and peanuts in Chinese broccoli leaves (look for the somewhat cryptic round icon). A nonillustrated special is also well worth trying: hoi tawd, a crisp pancake studded with fresh mussels. It’s simply superb, promises Jake the Snake, who has tried (and mostly failed) to find a decent version of this dish in the States.
Jake offers a full translation of the recent specials—others include Isaan-style sausage, raw shrimp salad, crispy thousand-year egg with basil, and kua kling, a dry meat curry with Thai herbs—but dearly wishes he didn’t have to: “It irks me to death when these Thai places just assume non-Thais cannot eat their food. Maybe if more of their non-Thai customers started ordering these items they would start letting go of this stereotype and we wouldn’t have to miss out on all the hidden gems.”
No translation is necessary at Ambala Supermarket, because there’s no menu. The halal Thai café attached to this South Asian grocery lays out a steam-table spread of seven or eight dishes plus a couple of soups, mostly for takeout. Recent winners include spicy pickled bamboo with chicken and hard-cooked egg in sweet, slightly hot sauce. “I really like this place. I suggest everyone try it,” urges Jeffsayyes. But don’t expect food on the level of hound haunts like SriPraPhai, he advises: “It’s homestyle, like what you would get at the Thai temple. Not comparable to any Thai restaurant.”
As much nightspot as restaurant is the newish Playground, an eatery-plus-bar associated with a karaoke joint one floor below. Yet it’s got culinary cred, too: The boss was the original owner of Zabb, the once highly regarded Isaan restaurant next door. Playground’s pad see ew (wide rice noodles with egg and Chinese broccoli) is on the money, with meltingly tender noodles and deep soy sauce flavor, the best jaingmaster‘s had at the local Thai places. Pork with Chinese broccoli is another standout: strips of meat, crispy outside and tender inside, with crunchy vegetables. Playground also makes some Isaan specialties like sausage, salads, and grilled meats. “Looking forward to trying out the rest of the menu,” jaingmaster says.
Ploy Thai [Elmhurst]
81-40 Broadway (between W. 81st and 82nd streets), Elmhurst, Queens
Ambala Supermarket [Jackson Heights]
71-10 37th Avenue (at 72nd Street), Jackson Heights, Queens
No phone available
Playground [Jackson Heights]
71-30 Roosevelt Avenue (at 72nd street), Jackson Heights, Queens