Reader Andrew said,
Gary, would you tell us about your favorite Thai restaurants in NYC? Are any of them the same caliber as Elephant Jumps?
Bonus points for being run-down, hole-in-the-wall places.
For all of you New Yorkers that have your back up at that statement, I’ll happily concede that the Washington DC area can compete or outcompete New York in probably only one or two other areas — Vietnamese for sure, and I’m tempted to say Ethiopian although that cuisine has been in long-term decline in the District.
You’re going to get more hole in the wall places in Flushing than in Manhattan, and in Manhattan on the streets rather than the avenues, but while there are plenty of Asian options in New York there aren’t a whole lot of good Thai places.
I grew up in New York, and New Yorkers generally aren’t big on spice. When the well-known Vegas Thai place Lotus of Siam opened in New York they completely redid their cooking for a New York palate, of course they didn’t last.
New York is great in almost everything because of the concentration of people. There’s intense competition, and enough people with enough varied tastes that one can be an entrepreneur and successful by specializing.
I’m not sure if there aren’t enough consumers with a developed taste in authentic Thai (perhaps related to spice aversion) or if there aren’t enough Thai people to demand good food from their home country. But New York is simply not a mecca for Thai food.
That said, there are probably good Thai places although I’ve never eaten in any there. I haven’t been to Pure Thai, which many seem to love. So I can’t categorically say that none reach the heights of quality that I’m looking for — I haven’t tried them all. And I’ll certainly try more in the future.
In general though I’ve stopped exploring for Thai restaurants in New York because they’ve historically disappointed. Which leaves me potentially blind, of course, to changes in the culinary landscape.