People like experiencing new things. It’s why we travel and move and attend workout classes with names like Beebe’s Buttcamp. It’s also why we go to restaurants. Trying a new place after work brings something exciting to your otherwise-pretty-mundane Tuesday. Unless you’re one of those people who works at Space X, or your job title is “Futurist,” or you’re a celebrity doula. In which case, congratulations and enjoy your night on the couch.
But for the rest of us, there’s Ugly Baby - an easy and excellent place to try something new. This restaurant serves food from all over Thailand, and it’s about the closest you get in NYC to feeling like you’re actually eating there, instead of in a little BYOB spot in the Brooklyn suburbia that is Carroll Gardens.
Ugly Baby is a single room with a handful of tables, a few bar seats overlooking the kitchen, and very little in the way of “vibe” - other than the walls, which are covered in rainbow murals. It kind of feels like what a restaurant would look like if you let artistically precocious eight-year-olds get high on Gushers and then have at it.
Based on the look of the place, you might not initially think Ugly Baby is the restaurant to help your boring Tuesday. But once your server drops your menu, you realize this is all stuff you haven’t seen at other Thai restaurants around NYC. The staff will happily explain things, but they’re mostly concerned with telling you how spicy each dish is. If they can tell you’re not prepared, they will make sure you’ve been warned. Go forth with confidence. Your Tuesday deserves it.
And yes, a lot of the food here is very spicy, but not in the way that makes you feel like the world is closing in on you and you might not make it out alive. The spiciness at Ugly Baby isn’t there to punish you - it’s there to make things taste better.
Most things here are worth ordering, but there are a few dishes so good that the other stuff on your table will get a little cold as you attempt to get them into your mouth as quickly as possible. One is the Khao Soi Nuer, a spicy curry noodle soup with beef shank, which you will think about longingly the next time you order a noodle soup somewhere else. Another is the Kah Moo Palo, described on the menu as “five spice pork leg stew.” That doesn’t do this justice: it’s a giant pork leg, covered in a layer of scrunched-up fat that looks kind of like a pug’s face. Lift up that layer (and do your best to forget about the pug’s face) and you will find some of the best pork you’ve ever eaten. It’s the kind of thing that gets dropped on your table as though it’s just another plate of noodles, when it actually deserves to come out in a parade with fire twirlers. And a herd of pugs.
That’s exactly why Ugly Baby is perfect for a meal when you need to feel like your life isn’t just a repeating cycle of staring at your laptop and staring at your iPhone. It’s simple and affordable, and serves food you might not have ever tried but absolutely should. And it’s infinitely better than a butt workout.
These are somewhere in between muffins and biscuits, and just a little bit sweet. They’re how you want to kick off a meal here - or take them home for what we imagine would be a very nice desk breakfast. Your coworker Karen and her tupperware of fruit salad should feel intimidated.
This is basically a fried rice salad with pork skin and peanuts, and it’s just as tasty as that sounds. Order one for the table to share.
This is, as far as we can tell, the mildest noodle dish on the menu. Tell anyone who’s worried about dishes being too spicy to order this. You have more important things to attend to.
This is one of the lighter things on the menu. By light, we just mean not covered in noodles and sauce. This is still a duck salad. The flavor is good, but it’s not one of our favorite things here.
There’s not a lot not to love about any khao soi - it’s a super rich curry noodle soup. But Ugly Baby’s is incredible. It’s also very spicy, which only gets more intense the faster and faster you try to eat this. Remember to breathe.
This bowl of green curry is pretty spicy, and also pretty tasty. But if you’re between the two, you should absolutely focus on the Khao Soi instead.
This is one of the simplest dishes we’ve had here, but it’s excellent. Fresh shrimp and squid, tossed with lots of chile and salted egg. Get it if you like seafood.
A giant pork leg with some of the most flavorful, most tender meat we’ve ever tried. Don’t leave without getting this - even if it’s just two of you. Even if you’re by yourself. You’ll just have leftovers...maybe.
This is described on the menu as “brutally spicy,” but we’d call it more of a slow burn. Eat a couple bites and you’ll feel fine - but pace yourself. Things escalate quickly.