At the suggestion of many Chowhounders, I made the pilgrimage yesterday to Sripraphai for lunch. My expectations were incredibly high (with the glowing reviews on Chowhound and a 26 Zagats food rating, although I did not expect much from the decor. I actually almost could not find the place as the outside looked more like a check cashing place then a restaurant, but so much more for this transporting experience. Entering the restaurant, I was surprised by the formica tables, flourescent lighting, napkin dispensers on the tables, salt and pepper in paper packets and little plastic tubs of hot sauce. That is not to mention two televisions playing Food Network, and racking along the back of the restaurant selling a mix of Thai food. Nervous that Chowhound may have finally led me astray, I embarked into the menu.
I was provided with two menus, one just listing the dishes and the second a binder with pictures of all of the dishes. I recommend utilizing the latter method of ordering, as the pictures provide a far more accurate description of the dishes then the scant description in the written menu. I nervously studied the menu, afraid to diminish the experience by ordering poorly and wasting this experience. My dining companion and I were ready for a big lunch, so we looked to order two appetizers to split and our own entrees.
First rule of thumb for at Sripraphai, when the waitress asks you if you want it spicy or "Thai Spicy" think very carefully. My companion ordered our Green Papaya salad with dry shrimp Thai Spicy, and they mean it. I have never tasted anything so hot in my life, but amazingly the flavor of the dish still came through. This was incredible. At first the heat builds in your mouth, and you have no idea when or if the level of heat will stop. After the first couple of bites, however, I did not seem to notice. I think I would prefer this dish just spicy in the future, but nevertheless this was incredible. The other appetizer was a Thai salad with peanut sauce, just because I absolutely love peanut sauce and thought it would be a good counterpoint to the spice of the Green Papaya salad. Thankfully, it was and it too was delicious for a garden salad.
For my main dish, I had pork shoulder with chili and basil over rice. What a dish. The flavors were incredibly complex rolling over my tongue, and the large chunks of pork were both tender from what I must assume was braising and charred a bit on the outside from grilling. Most of the pieces were left with a bit of fat on them for extra flavor. While the meat itself is not spicy, the sauce and vegetables surrounding the meat certainly is. I think that the small dish of chili vinegar that accompanied the dish is a joke as no more heat is needed then provided. Again my mouth was burning (not as much as with the Green Papaya salad), but all of the flavors (the holy basil, etc.) shined through. Thank god for some cooling from the rice and lots of water though. Needless to say, I left nothing on my plate. My lunch companion had an intersting looking vegetable dish with sticky rice, but honestly I could not taste her dish with all of the spice in my mouth.
Our waitress suggested some Thai tea to finish our meal, and once again I was stunned that I had never tasted anything like this even though I have ordered Thai tea many times. It was rich, sweet and full of indescribable flavors. More importantly, it was perfect at cooling off my stomach at that point from all of the chilis I injested.
The best part, my trip to Thailand (by way of Queens) cost only $27 for the two of us. As I said, after years of eating so-called Thai food, I realize that I have been mistaken. This is the real deal, and worth the trip and the heartburn. One day later, I am looking for an excuse to be back in the area for another dose.