Thursday, September 30, 2010
seafood with Thai herbs (pad cha talay)
soft shell crab with mango salad
The first time I went to Chao Thai, last year, I was so blown away by their chicken larb, the best version of the dish I've had outside of Thailand, that I wrote a paean to the dish and the restaurant. Since then I've been back a number of times, and I'm never disappointed. Give me Chao Thai over the much larger and much more well known Sripraphai.
The menu seems to represent multiple regions, but the restaurant shines especially with its larbs and Esan (Northeastern) salads. Many of the best dishes are not on the regular menu, but on wall signs, some of them in Thai only. Ask your server for recommendations. That's how I first tried the pad cha talay, a mixed seafood stir-fry with a mind-bogglingly complex mix of Thai herbs. I've had other larbs there, catfish and duck, but as good as they were I'd still recommend the classic chicken version. This summer I had the excellent soft shell crab with mango salad several times. I'm also quite fond of the pork num tok, which is seasoned like a larb, but with sliced instead of minced meat. I think the only really disappointing dish I've had there was a pad kee mao (also known as "drunken noodles"), sauteed broad rice noodles with basil and chili. This was uninspired, a little too sweet, a little too greasy. Also note that if you ask for your dishes Thai spicy they'll take you seriously. For many diners medium-spicy will be mucho spicy enough.
Chao Thai is conveniently located near the Elmhurst Avenue subway (R & M trains). If you love Thai food and you live in the New York area, you really should give Chao Thai a try. And if you're tired of the crappy Thai restaurants that predominate in the U.S., you might find Chao Thai a revelation.
85-03 Whitney Avenue (off Broadway)
Elmhurst, Queens, NY