- Zabb Elee
75 Second Ave., nr. 5th St.; 212-505-9533
Larb, the ground-meat salad of northeast Thailand, is a handy litmus test for Thai-food connoisseurs. If it’s missing even one of its critical components—fragrant herbs, searing chiles, tart lime juice, pungent fish sauce, toasted rice powder—that’s your cue to cut your losses and pay your bill. Zabb Elee acquits itself well on the larb front, as you’d expect of a kitchen that focuses on the distinctive cooking of the northeast, or Isan, region. In fact, aficionados will find eight varieties of the dish, nine if you count a version that douses a whole tilapia, its flesh removed and fried in chunks, with the traditional larb dressing. For us, the ones to beat are the savory duck (ped) and the extra-crispy pork (moo korb), which you can scoop up with crunchy cabbage leaves and cucumber slices. To truly relish the salad’s complex flavor and textural contrasts, you’d do well to choose your spice level conservatively. Any higher than three on the restaurant’s one-to-five scale, and you might not even notice what you’re eating.