Somtum Der – Great New Isaan Style Thai, But Hold The Somtum

Somtum Der is one of the latest additions to NY’s explosion in Isaan style Thai food with restaurants like Zabb Elee, Larb Ubol etc.  It’s kind of a weird because it’s a food that most NYers had no idea what it was until the last few years and then it just exploded. If you had asked me I wouldn’t have thought it would’ve caught on given its pretty spicy food which generally doesn’t work well against an American palate.  However, luckily I would’ve been dead wrong and now we have all this delicious food available.

Isaan is an area in northeast Thailand and Somtum Der is actually the NY branch of a Bangkok based restaurant, which is sort of funny because it’s a transplant of a transplant.   Isaan food is quite a bit different than the southern curries that most Americans associate with Thai food.  Instead it has a lot of salad type of dishes and various things like sausages, grilled meats etc.

The inside of the restaurant is dimly lit and fairly nice with all wood interior and long wooden tables. There is also a station with all their ingredients laid out and a guy who is mashing them to make various dishes such as their somtum.  The menu is helpful with lots of pictures and descriptions.  The wait staff is generally pretty friendly although I’ve noticed that when it gets busy they get overwhelmed and the service can be disjointed at times like that.

Tum Thai Kai Kem

I’m going to start with the disappointing stuff here and the somtum dishes despite being the restaurant’s namesake fall into this category.  This is spicy papaya salad with salted egg.  The flavors fell pretty flat here; the normal slightly sweet, sour and spicy flavors all tasted a bit muted and I thought the salted egg would add another dimension, but it didn’t really do much for the dish.  It was ok, but not something I would order again.  6.75/10

Tum Kor Moo Yang

This is spicy Papaya Salad mixed with grilled pork neck meat.  This was better than the tum thai kai kem, but still wasn’t that great.  The flavors were a bit better and the grilled pork neck meat was decent, but again really nothing special.  7.25/10

Larb Moo

This is spicy minced pork salad with green vegetables and chilis.  This was kind of bland, it wasn’t spicy enough and just generally wasn’t that flavorful.  6.5/10

Larb Ped

This is spicy minced duck salad with green vegetables and chilis.  This was definitely better than the larb moo although it was just alright on an absolute basis; for some reason they made it spicier and also a bit more flavorful, which helped the dish.  7.25/10

Moo Rong Hai Der + Khao Ji

Now that we’ve gotten through the duds, let’s get to the stars.  The pork is grilled with a thick layer of this spiced dry rub that is really delicious; it’s spicy, salty and has a semi-smoky flavor that is great.  The sauce it comes with is salty, sour and spicy and compliments the dish nicely.  It also comes with sticky rice that has been grilled that is a bit buttery in flavor and goes really well with it.  8.5/10

Sa Poak Kai Tod Der

This is “Der styled” deep fried chicken thigh, the chicken is perfectly crispy on the outside and very tender on the inside and isn’t greasy at all.  The sauce that is comes with is bit spicy, salty and sweet.  This is a good dish.  8.25/10

Moo Ping Kati Sod

This is grilled coconut milk marinated pork skewers.  The pork is tender and a bit of charred on the outside and the coconut milk has a slightly creamy coconut-y flavor.  It’s served with rice noodles and the same sauce as the moo rong hai der.  It’s very good.  8.25/10

Yum Tra Krai Sardine

This is sardines mixed with lemongrass, tomato sauce, herbs and spices in chili dressing.  It’s salty, sour and spicy with big chunks of sardines.  Silverjay on chowhound told me the first time he had it was served differently as the sardines were different and weren’t these big chunks.  It was decent, but I didn’t love it.  7.5/10

Goong Chae Nam Pla

This is prawn sashimi with green chili sauce and is probably my favorite dish here.  The shrimp meat is slightly sweet as prawn sashimi typically is.  The sauce is the spiciest thing I’ve had here and is spicy, sour and salty.  It really compliments the shrimp nicely.  Also if you don’t like really spicy food, I’d suggest taking peppers off as they are what is really spicy about the dish.  8.5/10

Yum Crispy Leaf Fish

This is chunks of crispy leaf fish in a spicy dressing.  This is another one of my favorite dishes here, the chunks of fish are crispy and the dressing is spicy, sweet, salty and sour.  It also has these vegetables which I’m not sure what they are and they look kind of like onion; they are really delicious with a unique flavor which is hard to explain.  I highly recommend trying this dish.  8.5/10

Black Jelly With Fresh Milk

This is chunks of shaved ice with small bits of black herbal jelly and milk that is sweetened and this brown powder on top.  It was alright, but wasn’t really what I was expecting.  7.25/10

Taro In Condense Coconut Milk

This is a warm sweet coconut milk soup with mochi taro balls.  The soup is sweet, salty and creamy and the mochi are very tender and I believe uses real taro as it tastes like taro.  This is really good and I highly recommend getting this.  8.5/10

Overall, I really like this place if you order the right dishes and stay away from their somtum and larb.  This is a great addition to NY’s Thai scene.

85 Ave A
New York, NY 10009
(212) 260-8570

Pok Pok Phat Thai – A Thai Noodle Specialist, But It’s All About The Crepe

Pok Pok Phat Thai is one of Andy Ricker’s restaurants.  I wrote about the predecessor when it was called Pok Pok Wings and specialized in chicken wings, which you can see here.  However, it changed this year and now focuses on pad thai because apparently the kitchen was too small and was making it difficult to cook the wings properly (the kitchen is tiny).  I’m not going to give too many details about the restaurant because I already did in the original review.

Here’s what we got:

Phat Thai Ruam (Pad Thai with Shrimp and Pork):

This is supposed to be the authentic version of pad thai.  Its rice noodles cooked in rendered pork fat with tamarind, fish sauce, palm sugar, peanuts, dried tofu, dried shrimp, preserved radish, egg, garlic chives, bean sprouts and chili powder.  You can choose it plain, with shrimp, with ground pork or with both.  I got the version with both shrimp and ground pork.  It’s much drier and less sweet than the sloppy sauce-y Americanized version.  The flavors are a bit subtle although it’s not bland by any means.  The various condiments were all quite good and definitely make the dish better.  Overall, while I’m no pad thai expert, I found the dish to be pretty tasty and a little extra fish sauce and chili powder definitely kicks it up a notch.  7.75/10

Kuaytiaw Khua Kai (Stir Fried Rice Noodles):

This is wide rice noodles stir fried in rendered pork fat with chicken, cuttlefish, egg and green onions.  According to their website this is a Bangkok Chinatown specialty, which makes sense since kuaytiaw is actually a Chinese word for noodles in the Hokkien / Teochew dialect (粿條 guo tiao).  Southeast Asia has a ton of Chinese influence (mainly Hokkien, Teochew and Cantonese) and Thailand has a substantial Chinese population, which you can read about in this Wiki article.  This is somewhat similar to char kway teow which is a common dish in Singapore and Malaysia.  Anyhow, it tastes just like it sounds.  I liked it a bit better than the phat thai as it had a bit of the smoky “wok hai” type of flavor that you get from cooking food in a very hot wok.  Overall, I liked this dish and thought it was good.  8/10

Hoi Thawt (Mussel Broken Crepe):

This is a starch-y broken crepe with steamed mussels, eggs, garlic chives and bean sprouts served with Shark Sri Racha sauce.  I’m almost certain that this dish was taken from Teochew Chinese as it tastes very similar to the oyster omelette / crepe you find in Singapore, Malaysia, Taiwan and certain parts of southern China.  Although I’d say it’s more similar to the Taiwanese version.  Anyhow, it’s sort of starchy, but with lots of crispy bits, egg and mussel and topped with the tangy slightly spicy sauce.  I thought this was shockingly good; it actually tastes very similar to what you get in Asia.  In fact, this is the only time I’ve had this dish done well in the US.  I’ve even gone back three times in total to make sure the first time wasn’t a fluke.  This is the dish that is worth coming here for.  8.75/10

Overall, I enjoyed this place a lot and it’s definitely a good spot to check out if you’re in the neighborhood.

137 Rivington Street (between Norfolk & Suffolk)
New York, NY 10002
(212) 477-1299

Pok Pok Wing – Delicious New Thai Chicken Wing and Other Thai Specialties in the Lower Eastside


Pok Pok Wing is the new restaurant opened up by Andy Ricker, who runs a well-known Thai restaurant in Portland.  I didn’t actually know very much about him or his restaurant other than they are from Portland.  I did a little research and this NYT article has a decent amount of information about him, which you can see by clicking here. Pok pok apparently is the stone mortar, which they use to grind various ingredients.

The restaurant is located in the old Baohaus space on Rivington.  It’s tiny and they didn’t change too much except the pictures on the wall, which are of various Thai record covers and ads. You can see what it looks like on their website.  I’ve only been getting take-out since I’d rather eat it at my place than at the restaurant, but everyone seems nice and surprisingly I think most of the staff is Thai.

On to the food:

Ike’s Wings (ordered spicy):

These are deep fried whole chicken wings marinated in fish sauce, garlic and sugar.  When I say whole chicken wings I literally mean that as they are much bigger than the normal chicken wings you get when you order buffalo wings.  They are nicely crispy on the outside, but not overly crispy or fried.  The meat is tender and the seasoning is sweet and spicy at the same time and you can definitely taste the garlic.  They remind me of Korean chicken wings a little bit and I couldn’t decide if I like them better or not.  I do think I can probably eat more of them than Korean chicken wings which taste awesome at first, but I get sick of them after like three or four.  I thought these were very good overall and comparable or better than any of the other “Asian” chicken wings out there.  I definitely recommend ordering them spicy. 8.5/10

Papaya Pok Pok (added salted black crab, Isaan style with pla ra and dry chilis):

This is som tum, which is a papaya green salad with tomatoes, long beans, Thai chili, lime juice, tamarind, fish sauce, garlic, palm sugar, dried shrimps, peanuts, salted black crab, pla ra (fermented fish sauce) and dry chilis.  The version here is basically the traditional version with nothing particularly different about it, which is fine by me since it’s one of my favorite Thai dishes.  It was a little more on the sour and tangy side compared to most versions I’ve had and it was actually surprisingly quite spicy which I was pleased with as I was expecting them to dumb it down due to the neighborhood and crowd, I wouldn’t say it’s Thai spicy, but it’s way spicier than most Americans would want.  I thought it was pretty decent, but I don’t think it’s as good as the better versions I’ve had in NY at places like Zabb Elee. 7.5/10

Khao Man Som Tom:

This is a combination with som tum (green papaya salad) served with coconut rice topped with sweet shredded pork that has been cooked in palm sugar and black soy sauce topped with fried shallots and cilantro. The som tum didn’t have the salted crab, pla ra and dried chilis, which meant it was lighter in flavor and much less spicy than the other version I had.  I would ask them to make it spicier next time.  The coconut rice was quite nice, it was fluffy and had good coconut flavor.  I was surprised at how good it tasted.  The pork was nicely tender and had good flavor.  However, it was a bit too sweet if it was a little less sweet it would’ve gone from good to really good.  I really liked the fried shallots on top of it.  Overall, I enjoyed it, but I wish the pork was a little less sweet.  8/10 (7/10 for som tum, 7.75/10 for the pork and 8.25/10 for the coconut rice)

Pok Pok Som Tum Drinking Vinegars:

This was various fruit flavored vinegars that are mixed with soda water.  They had tamarind, honey, apple and pomegranate favors. These drinks were quite interesting as I’ve never really had anything like this.  I tried the tamarind and the pomegranate.  The vinegar is both sweet and sour, but not super sweet or sour.  The tamarind was more sour and the pomegranate was more sweet.  It went really well with the soda water.  It’s kind of hard to explain, but I really liked it and found myself wanting more after I finished the drink.  I definitely recommend trying one of these.  8.5/10

Overall, I like this place and it’s definitely a great addition to the neighborhood.

137 Rivington St (between Norfolk St & Suffolk St)
Manhattan, NY 10002
(212) 477-1299

Zabb Elee – Great Thai Food in the East Village

I heard about Zabb Elee on chowhound in a post written by comiendosiempre.  He (or she) touted the Isaan (northeast Thai) food.  I was excited by this post because I really like Isaan food and the Thai food in Manhattan is generally not very good.  It seems to have had some history with the Zabb in Queens and Manhattan, but isn’t affiliated with either now.  However, I believe it is affiliated with Spice as they advertise a branch of Spice on the wall toward the front.

While I’m no Thai cuisine expert, I’ve found Isaan cuisine to be quite different than what most people associate with Thai cuisine.  There doesn’t seem to be much use of watery gravy curries, they eat a lot of sticky rice, there are alot salad-like dishes such as som tum (papaya salad) and larb (ground meat salad) and they eat grilled meats like sausage and yang (grilled meats).  Something about the flavors and textures really hit the spot with me, more so than other Thai food I’ve had.

The restaurant is located in the space that housed the now defunct Vietnamese restaurant Le Da Nang.  It’s a surprisingly nice space with white walls, white leather booths and dark wood tables and chairs.  The staff is all Thai and very nice.  I’ve found the service to be quite good on the two occasions I’ve dined there.

On to what we got:

Som Tum Poo Plara:

This is papaya salad with preserved crab and in a pickled fish sweet chili lime sauce (plara).  The sweet fermented flavor of the “plara” sauce (fermented fish) goes well with the papaya.  It does have a certain fermented scent which my girlfriend wasn’t crazy about, but this was great for me. I also like the pickled raw crab in the dish, which sort of reminds me of this Korean dish I really like.  This was quite good.  8.25/10

Som Tum Thai:

This is papaya salad with dried shrimp and peanuts.  While I really liked the “plara” version, I thought this version was even better as I really liked the condiments particularly the bigger dried shrimps and the roasted peanuts.  8.5/10

Moo Korb Larb:

This was crispy fried chunks of pork, shallots, fresh mint, scallion, cilantro, chili powder and lime dressing.  I was expecting something slightly different and I didn’t think crispy chunks of pork went as well with the papaya salad as the normal ground pork.  That said I liked it, but I prefer the ground pork version. 7.25/10

Moo Larb:

This is ground pork, shallots, fresh mint, scallion, cilantro, chili powder and lime dressing.  I didn’t think the seasonings tasted all that different from the other Zabb City in Manhattan (whose version I do like quite a bit), but where I thought it really stood out was that the pork was actually pretty tender, which is kind of hard to do with ground pork.  Overall, I thought this was great. 8.5/10

Nuer Yang:

This was grilled marinated beef with sweet chili and garlic chili dipping sauce.  I wasn’t crazy about this, the beef was a little on the dry side.  The sauces made it better, but I thought the beef was just too dry overall. 6.75/10

Larb Plar Korb:

This was recommended by the waitress.  It was crispy chunks of whole Thai tilapia with shallot, mint, cilantro and chili lime dressing.  The crispy pieces of fish were almost like fish jerky, they weren’t as tender as normal fish, but it was really good, I loved the texture and the combination of salty, sour and spicy flavors.  This was awesome probably my favorite dish so far.  8.75/10

Pad Ped Moo Korb:

This was recommended by the waitress.  It was crispy pork, thai eggplant, pepper, basil, wild ginger with spicy curry.  This was not like most Thai curries where it’s a watery gravy curry, this was more of a dry and oily curry.  The crispy pork went so well with the curry and other flavors in particular I loved the basil and saltiness of the dish.  It’s a lot of flavors in one dish, so it’s hard to explain, but it was excellent.  The waitress told us you need rice with this dish because it’s pretty salty and she was right that it tastes great with rice as it cuts the saltiness a bit. 8.5/10

Pumpkin in Coconut Milk:

We asked the waitress for dessert, I was hoping they’d have mango sticky rice, but unfortunately they didn’t.  However, she recommended another dish consisting of kabocha (Japanese pumpkin) in a sweet coconut milk.  I love the sweet and salty coconut milk that is prominent in Southeast Asian cuisines, so I loved this dessert.  I think it might even be better than mango sticky rice which I love. The kabocha was cooked perfectly, it was tender and it went great with the coconut milk.  I highly recommend this. 8.75/10

Overall, I really like Zabb Elee and while I haven’t tried all of the top Thai restaurants in NY, this is probably the best overall Thai I’ve had including Sripriphai, which I think while good is overrated although it is comparing apples to oranges to a certain degree as they serve different types of Thai food.

75 2nd Ave (between 4th St & 5th St)
Manhattan, NY 10003
(212) 505-9533