Last night, craving Thai food late, we ended up at Zabb Elee in Queens, which is conveniently open late (1 am on weekdays and 2 am on weekends). I hadn't been to this space since it changed hands a couple of years back, though I did enjoy the old Zabb, particularly their duck salad.
Anyway, expecting a mostly empty restaurant, I was totally surprised to walk in at 11:45 and find the place packed with young Thais. I felt transported to Bangkok, as everyone was chatting in Thai around me and the restaurant just seemed to have a Thai atmosphere that, say, Ayada doesn't have, no matter how good the food is.
And the food? It was excellent, easily the best Thai meal I've had in a while, and better than similar fare at Zabb Elee in the East Village.
We ordered the grilled shrimp salad, pak boong (i call it water spinach, but the menu called it swamp cabbage in English), sai oua sausage, and thai omelet with pork. Everything was topnotch. The dressing for the shrimp salad was spicy and sour and not marred by the sweetness that is too often present. The pak boong was excellent, best I've had in NYC. (The pak boong at the EV location runs a close second.) The sai oua was not the large, loose, kaffir lime accented sausage I was expecting, but was instead a roughly hewn smaller sausage. It was good, though I think I prefer the Esarn sausage on the menu. But what really made it were the peanuts which always accompany the sausage (along with ginger, red onion, and chili). These peanuts were fried until dark and fragrant and served hot. The omelet was also spot on—perfect texture, crispy on the outside, light on the inside.
The server never asked how hot we wanted our food (which I loved) but just to be safe I did tell him "phet phet" (very spicy) and everything had the right heat level.
My only quibble would be with the sticky rice, which is served in a plastic bag and not in the traditional container. Once you open the bag, the exterior of the rice ball hardens quickly.
I have no idea if the food is always this good there, or if you have to go when the place is packed with Thais. But it seems to me that if you like the Zabb Elee menu and you want it cooked the way it would be for Thais and not for Americans, then you should try the one in Queens.
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