NYCReview

photo credit: Teddy Wolff

Ugly Baby review image
8.9

Ugly Baby

When we revisit a restaurant and think, “Wow this place is better than ever,” it’s usually for one of several reasons. Maybe the restaurant is doing something slightly different without changing what made us love it in the first place. Or maybe the classic dishes on the menu still demand attention. Either way, we scold ourselves for not coming back often enough.

Ugly Baby checks all of these boxes. This Carroll Gardens restaurant is somewhere that we can truly say is better than ever. Not to mention it’s one of the best Thai spots in NYC.

Throughout the pandemic, you had to DM Ugly Baby on Instagram in order to reserve a table and preorder your meal. They’ve ditched that method—although when you make a reservation through Tock, you’ll still have to preorder your meal. Now, you have the option to choose from specific, curated set menus (which vary based on the size of your party) with the ability to add on dishes—unless your party is three or fewer people, in which case you’ll have to go à la carte. When it comes to ordering dinner, we have a hard time putting our faith into anybody else, but Ugly Baby does a pretty f*cking good job deciding for us.

Teddy Wolff

Ugly Baby review image

Bring a large group—because you’re going to want to taste as many dishes as possible. A typical preset menu for five people, which comes out to $200, consists of things like a gigantic vegetable platter with a salted mackerel dip, thick chunks of pork belly with crispy shallots, a whole fried (and perfectly cooked) sea bream with crackly skin, and blue crab hor mok cooked in banana leaf with coconut custard. There are no repetitive dishes with these set menus, and most of the meals are built around the newer hits that the kitchen is cranking out.

If you’re craving some of the classic Ugly Baby dishes, though, you’ll be happy to know they’re still around. The shrimp, squid, and salted egg yolk-loaded khoong muk kai kem and the laab ped udon with duck and copious herbs (which happens to be the spiciest thing on the menu) are both worth adding to any preset menu. These plates are some of the best things here, which makes sense, since they're what made us adore the restaurant in the first place. Ugly Baby could have just stuck with these exemplary dishes and still been a top-tier restaurant in NYC. And yet, they keep reinventing the menu—a feat that reminds of when Paul McCartney collaborated with Rihanna and none of us were surprised that it actually worked.

Teddy Wolff

Ugly Baby review image

Our biggest caveat: You shouldn’t come to Ugly Baby with people who are picky eaters or folks who have low spice tolerances. Many of the menu items aren’t overly reliant on spice, but people who aren’t ready to touch a dish with a barrage of bird’s eye and green chilies will miss out on some of Ugly Baby’s most exciting food.

Standout dishes aside, the service here continues to be excellent, the wine and beer list is surprisingly big (with options from local brewers like Talea, Other Half, and more), and everybody in the small but long dining room will be having a sweaty, fun time when you stop by. You could find this scene happening at Ugly Baby before the pandemic, but we’re glad that it’s still going.

Food Rundown

Laab Ped Udon

This is, by far, the spiciest thing on the menu—the heat is immediate but also grows over time. The number of herbs and shallots in here helps a bit to balance the dish, but we’d only recommend ordering this mouth-puckering duck salad if you’ve created your own Hot Ones lineup at home.

Teddy Wolff

Ugly Baby review image

Khoong Muk Kai Kem

You get so much shrimp and squid in this dish, and the salted egg yolk makes the whole thing salty and luxurious. Some extra scallions and chilies round things out, but the final product isn't super spicy. Order it.

Teddy Wolff

Ugly Baby review image

Lon Pla Kem

This platter of vegetables, like Thai eggplant, endive, green beans, and whatever else is in season, comes with a warm dip of coconut and salted mackerel—a combination that works exceedingly well. Throughout your meal, take a break from the spice and intense flavors by dipping some vegetables and cooling off with this sweet dip. It's a common snack in Thailand, and we can see why.

Pla Tod Kamin

A perfectly cooked and perfectly crispy sea bream. Seasoned with a bit of turmeric and topped with loads of fried shallots, this is one of the better whole fishes we’ve eaten at a restaurant.

Teddy Wolff

Ugly Baby review image

Moo Pad Kapi

Another dish with a significant amount of spice, these thick hunks of pork belly get coated with chilies and fried shallots. Unfortunately, the pork belly could be a bit crispier, and we think there are other, more worthwhile pork dishes you should order.

Kang Hoh

This is one of those more-worthwhile pork dishes we were talking about. We love many things about it: how tender the chunks of pork shoulder get, the deep, savory flavor of the red curry paste, and the way the glass noodles weave throughout the rest of the ingredients. You can only order this dish off the à la carte menu—and we suggest you make room for it.

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