Thais and non-Thais, foodies, chefs, and local shop owners alike have been encouraging me to try Khao Kang for months. The steam table joint opened this winter on a stretch of Woodside Avenue I like to call Little Bangkok. It took me half a year to finally try it, but I am ever so glad I did.
At first glance it looks like a Chinese rice-and-three spot, but it’s actually far superior. It recalls the good old days of Sripraphai, before the restaurant skyrocketed to popularity, taking up two storefronts. Selections change daily according to the chef’s whim, but they are always fragrant, delicious, and often quite hot. There are a few regulars like a wonderful stewed pork belly and something I like to call the Thai surf and turf, which is available only on weekends.
It happened like this. One day I saw a stack of banana leaf packages bearing the telltale charring of the oven. “It’s fish,” the guy behind the counter said. “Hamok?” I queried wondering if it was the steamed fish mousse seasoned with kaffir lime, basil, and chili. When he replied in the affirmative and said the dish was only available on weekends I made a mental note to come back and try it.
This past weekend I stopped by Khao Kang with two friends. I knew I’d be getting the hamok, so I restrained myself to a rice and two. One of them was that wonderful stewed pork, slightly sweet and gently seasoned with star anise. For the other I chose a fiery scramble of Isaan sour sausage and egg. Opening the banana leaf parcel, I was surprised not to find fish mousse. Instead there was a foil package. Within that lay a hunk of fish stained an orange-red and topped with a basil leaf. Khao Kang’s take on hamok left my mouth singing with the flavors of chili and kaffir lime.
None of the food needed to be doctored up with the little jar of bird’s eye chilies in lime juice in fish sauce, but that didn’t stop me from spooning a little bit over my rice. “This is nothing like the Thai food in Manhattan,” one of my dining companions noted kvelling over its authenticity. I can’t wait to eat my way through Khao Kang’s entire menu. I haven’t been this excited about Thai since those early Sripraphai days.
Khao Kang, 76-20 Woodside Ave, Elmhurst, 718-662-8721