Zabb Elee

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This just might be the most authentic Thai food in Manhattan. And it doesn’t serve pad thai.

75 Second Ave., New York, NY, 10003


Known For

The lowdown

Don’t come here expecting to find the usual pad Thai and spring rolls – they aren’t on the menu. Zabb Elee, a branch of a Jackson Heights eatery by the same name, specializes in northern Thai “Isan” cuisine and might just be the most authentic Thai food in Manhattan. Bring an open mind and start ordering: You can’t go wrong with anything containing crispy pork, crunchy and meltingly fatty nuggets of fried meat that do equally well in a larb, a cool mix of chopped meat, herbs, and lime juice, as they do in a salty, flavors-to-eleven pad ped curry. Som tums, sweet-sour salads, vary widely ingredient-wise though not in flavor profile; the som tum muazuar is a Westerner-friendly, tasty mix of young papaya strands, shrimp, rice noodles, pork, tomatoes and green beans, a nice way to get some veggies. Grilled meats are also big in Isan cooking, either prepared larb-like, as in nam tok, or as a yang – sliced and served with a spicy, garlicky dipping sauce. You can choose your own heat index here, from mild “1” to ear-popping “5” (even if you adore spice, go with a “4” to test the waters; it’ll still make you tear up). With food this interesting and delicious, it wouldn’t really matter what the surroundings looked like; however, the narrow basement dining room has some flair, with patterned tiled floors, white-leather banquettes, and mirrored walls.

What you need to know

Recommended DishesYum moo krob, $11; som tum muazuar, $10; pad ped moo krob, $11

DrinksFull Bar