Opened just a few days ago I have the pleasure to announce a new contender for best Thai in Manhattan: Zaab - Elle.
Located on 2d Avenue and about 4th street, it is the new occupant of what previously had been Le Da Nang. The spot is relatively small, narrow, pretty, and comfortable. After having visited most all the "contenders" for best Thai in Queens (SRI, Chao Thai, Ayada, etc) we thought Zaab-Elle is right up there with them, and better on a few dishes.
Apparently either "the chef," or "one of the chefs" from Zaab Queens has opened this branch. Which of the two scenarios was a bit unclear. The menu is pure Isaan food, from the northern part of Thailand. Thus, there are essentially no noodle dishes (except in the soups), no pad thai or similar, no spring rolls or dumplings or the like. That does take some getting used to and we saw the very sweet staff explaining this to most every table. Although the menu does have some photos, in truth, the dishes can be a bit hard to figure out. They also have a full bar (martinis are $7, I guess you gotta offer them in this neighborhood) and a good inexpensive wine and beer selection.
We ordered quite a number of salad-like dishes. The bbq pork with chilis, onion, mint, etc. was superb. Likely the best we have had outside Thailand. Large portions. Low prices, we thought. Their papaya salad with shrimp and pork likewise was excellent, as was another of their shrimp salads served at room temperature. We asked for the food "pet," spicy. The waitress asked, "are you sure, you mean like Thai spicy, Thai medium?" We said "absolutely." In any event, we eat a lot of spicy food and two of the dishes we had were incendiary. At the end of the meal one of the waitresses said, "we never really see locals eat dishes Thai spicy." While I hate to admit it, we dialed back on our next round of dishes, but we did finish the ones on fire too. They also do not really have coconut-based curry dishes. Thus, no red or green curries. I'm not sure they have any duck dish either. But, their dry curries were excellent. One, another pork dish, we all thought was just superb. The dishes are even prettily presented. A large noodle soup (a few broths to choose from), was similar to a well developed Pho, maybe a bit sweeter, with good rice noodles. We ordered a grilled calamari dish which for us was the one clunker. Likely just not to our taste, though the cilantro dipping sauce was excellent.
In terms of kitchen and staff, we saw a number of women working in the kitchen in the back; the food came out quickly. The staff could not be nicer. It was obvious they were focused on us having a good meal and enjoying the food.
In sum, we may now have a reason not to travel to Queens for Thai food so often. This place is not dumbing down their food for farangs and hopefully that will remain the case. Whether they can avoid adding a pad thai we will have to see. We can't wait to go back.
75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003