We aren’t especially psychic, but there’s one prediction we can make with absolute certainty: there’s going to be a wait at Fish Cheeks tonight. We’re positive, because this festive Thai spot in Noho always has a wait. The longest we’ve encountered was two hours for a bar seat - and at times like that, you have to find a nice mirror, look deep inside, and ask yourself, “Is it worth it?”
The answer is yes, if only for the coconut crab curry. We don’t mean to diminish the contributions of the other slightly-tweaked Thai classics on the menu - especially the limey chicken wings and fragrant po tak soup - it’s just that the coconut crab curry is the only thing that turns our lives into a slow-motion montage set to Al Green. It’s the color of a traffic cone or a forest near Woodstock in late October, with a touch of sweetness and a significant amount of spice to balance things out. The curry isn’t especially thick, more like the consistency of Campbell’s tomato soup - and just like a soup, we often eat it plain even though it comes with rice.
Find someone who excels at sharing, and extend an invite. Most of the dishes are served family-style, and, considering how colorful and lively the space is, you might feel lonelier than usual eating by yourself. Bamboo fish traps repurposed as light fixtures give the room a pleasant glow, the furniture is painted in bright primary colors, and the bar inevitably fills up with spontaneous diners and people taking advantage of Happy Hour. Sit back there, and you can watch the bartender make a string of purple cocktails while you present an argument as to why you deserve an infinite number of complimentary shrimp chips.
Fish Cheeks is the perfect place to eat with a small group on a Friday, especially when you’re looking for a spot with a few set menus (for around $50 per person) and an energy level on-par with a successful singles mixer. If you don’t want to wind up eating around the time your loved ones are going to bed, either book a few weeks in advance, or put your name in for a table around 6pm, and bide your time at a bar nearby. There are worse things in life, and, besides, the coconut crab curry is worth an hour or two of listening to your friends ask if the table is ready.
Every meal at Fish Cheeks begins with a bowl of complimentary shrimp chips. The chips themselves aren’t anything revelatory, but that chile jam on the side is a world-class condiment. It’s sweet and a bit spicy with just the right amount of fishiness.
When you eat these zabb wings, you’ll get a fine dusting of the coating all over your hands and face. It’s sweet and sour (from dehydrated lime powder), and it would be absolutely amazing tossed onto chips or popcorn. Sure, we wish these wings were a little crispier, but, then again, we wish a lot of things, and we should probably just be happy with what we have. Start your meal with these excellent wings, and be grateful.
What else can we say about this? Order it. And if you’re splitting it, try to fish out all the chunks of crab before someone else gets to them. You have to look out for yourself in Noho.
If you’re vegan or allergic to orange things, get this green curry instead of the crab one. It doesn’t have as much kick, but it’s a little bit thicker, and it comes with a big pile of vegetables in the middle.
This salad is mostly fruit - big chunks of pomelo, to be specific. It has a nice, tangy dressing, and the slivers of aged fish mixed throughout almost taste like crispy pork. If you’re looking for something light to start things off, go for it.
These thin, tender slices of pork cheek are pretty straightforward. The pork itself doesn’t have a lot going on, but the sauce on the side has some good heat, acidity, and just a touch of pleasant fishiness. Overall, it’s an enjoyable dish, but you probably won’t fight over the last piece at your table.
If you’re in the market for a new scent, you could dab a little of this behind your ears. That’s how good it smells, and it turns out this very large pot of po tak soup tastes great as well. It’s sweet, lemongrassy, and absolutely stuffed with seafood (like shrimp, squid, and pollock), and it’s ideal for sharing with two to three people.
It’s hard to be disappointed with a big, fluffy pile of crab fried rice. This a crowd-pleaser, and, while it doesn’t have too much spice or flavor going on, it does come with some garlicky nam jim seafood sauce and tangy prik nam pla on the side. Make liberal use of these sauces.