Elmhurst’s Little Bangkok is the gift that keeps on giving. Khao Nom is the latest entrant in the nexus of deliciousness that radiates outward from the junction of Woodside Avenue and Broadway. When I say latest I mean very latest, as in they opened last Thursday. Food critics normally stay away from a place for several weeks before spilling ink, thankfully as a food writer I have no such constraints.
When I first heard about Khao Nom—whose name means dessert—I was told that its mainstay would be old-fashioned Thai dessert. So when I visited on opening day I was surprised to find a six-item menu of savories, including something called chan noodle ($11). It’s a generous tangle of chewy flat rice noodles known as sen chan, flavored with chili and tamarind and surmounted by two huge prawns. It comes with a back story too. My pal Joel, a go-to source for all things related to Thai food culture tells me it’s a forerunner of pad thai that dates back to the time when Siam became Thailand and there was a rice shortage. Prime minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram encouraged the eating of noodles and set up a contest. The story goes that the winner of the contest was sen chan (chan noodles) named after the town Chantaburi.
At the encouraging of my friend Cherry I started out my first meal at Khao Nom with tod mun poo ($10), a pair of croquettes packed with scallop and crab meet. Kaffir lime leaves stud the exterior and there’s a good chili heat, which makes the whole affair taste like Maryland meets Bangkok via Elmhurst. Those who have had sister restaurant Khao Kang’s hamok fish mousse will recognize the flavor instantly.
On my first visit the dessert pickings at Khao Naom were rather slim, but on the second I was glad to see the return of one of my favorite Thai desserts, khanom bueang, or Thai tacos. I first had the savory-sweet treats about three years ago when Khao Kang used to make them, and have been longing for them ever since. The rice flour crepe smeared with meringue comes with one of two fillings: a sweet one with coconut and foi thong, strands of candied egg yolk, and a savory version filled with ruddy salted coconut seasoned with dried shrimp and sesame seeds.
I can’t wait to see what else develops as Khao Nom gets its footing and adds even more desserts.
Khao Nom, 76-20 Woodside Ave., Elmhurst