The old school Thai noodle soups and newfangled desserts at Plant Love House are so good that’s it’s all too easy to ignore the rest of the menu at this family-run joint in Elmhurst. I know this because it’s taken me months to finally get into the rice plates, which are home cooking of the highest order as prepared by matriarch Manadsanan Sutipayakul.
Khow klup kapi or shrimp paste rice consists of a mound of rice topped with stewed sweet pork. Orbiting the rice and pork are slivered mango, pork sausage, chopped long beans, red onions, chilies, ribbons of omelet, and cucumbers. Mixing the whole lot together results in a universe of Thai flavors—salty, spicy, fishy, sweet, and herbaceous—in every bite.
A few weeks after trying Plant Love’s shrimp paste fried rice, I was introduced to it’s funkier fishier cousin, khao pad nam plik pla too. The star of the show here is a broiled whole mackerel. It’s joined by okra pods, a slow cooked egg, a quartered Thai eggplant, cauliflower, raw carrots, veggie fritters, and nam plik kapi. The latter, a pungent concoction made from chilies, garlic, lime, and fermented shrimp paste, is what really ups the funk and spice factor in this dish. Get an extra serving, so you can mix one with the rice, and use the other as a dip for your Thai crudités. Rounding out this set meal is a lovely clear soup enriched with fried garlic. The mackerel itself is so well cooked that it is possible to eat the entire head, if you’re into that sort of thing.
“You don’t see this anywhere in Thailand anymore,” one of the chef’s daughters tells me. “It’s real old fashioned, it’s my Mom’s favorite.” As if on cue a Thai friend then walked in and ordered an off-menu special of fermented pork sausage and rice, proving that there’s always more to explore.
Plant Love House, 86-08 Whitney Ave., Elmhurst, 718-565-2010