It used to be that you had to travel to the outer boroughs to taste real deal, authentic Thai flavors (see, Sripraphai). But times have most certainly changed. A couple of years ago, a second outpost of Elmhurst's Zabb Elee, one of the most highly regarded Thai restaurants in town, opened in the East Village, immediately making it one of the best Thai restaurant in Manhattan.
The food at Zabb Elee is Isan style Thai food, which is from the Northern part of the country. Among many characteristics, Isan food is typically very spicy. "Mild" when it comes to Northern probably blows what you know as "hot" at other restaurants out of the water. Tread lightly.
If Isan cuisine is a thing you eat regularly, know that Zabb Elee's laarbs can hang with the best of them. This is as authentic as it gets in this part of town, and that's why we're here so often.
Take your pick from nine different varieties of this Northern Thai staple. Larb (or laab) is basically ground meat salad, and this one is probably the best one we've had since our last visit to SriPraPhai. Go with the duck or the beef.
The traditional green papaya salad, in several different varieties. We like to go with the Som Tum Poo Plara with preserved crab, pickled fish, and crunchy pork skin.
When dining at a Northern Thai restaurant, order as much sweet sausage as humanly possible. It literally tastes like candy. Here, sweet sausage comes in a salad, with plump cherry tomatoes, onions, and greens. Eat it.
A spicy soup loaded with mussels, octopus, shrimp, and other delicious things. The broth is light but insanely flavorful, and it comes served in a giant metal bowl with fire under it. Can't say no to that.
One of Zabb Elee's house specialties. If you like crispy bacon, this has your name written all over it. Thick-cut, crispy pork nuggets come served with some with basil, onions, and oyster sauce. The flavors are intense and the pork is a mouthful, so you really only need a couple bites of this one. A glorious couple of bites.
Fried chicken with ginger rice and sweet chili sauce. Yup, that's awesome.