Whenever I lead tours of Queens’ second Chinatown Elmhurst, I point out the hood’s huge Southeast Asian—Indonesian, Thai, and Vietnamese—presence. Lately, it’s been undergoing a Thai renaissance with newer spots like Pata Paplean, Eim Khao Man Gai, and Khao Kang joining the old guard of Ayada, Chao Thai, and Ploy Thai. Scarcely a month old Paet Rio is the newest kid on the Little Bangkok block.
Chef owner Nicky Phimpoy ran Wondee Siam in Hell’s Kitchen for some 20 years before coming to the borough that boasts the most authentic Thai food in NewYork City. Paet Rio is named for her home province, located in eastern Thailand. There’s plenty of curries, yums, and larbs on the menu. What made me sit up and take notice was the roster of 14 specialty noodle dishes, particularly something called kanom chin nam-ngiao ($10.98).
I’d never heard of this dish of fermented rice noodles in pork broth, tomato, and dried red kapok flowers. It eats sort of like a Thai pork ragu, rich with tomatoey-porky goodness, with the flowers having an almost meaty quality. I expected the noodles—kanom chin—to have a sour taste, but it turns out the rice is fermented before being made into noodles.
“This is mountain people food,” my Thai dining companion told me of the dish that’s a staple of the Tai Yai people from Northern Thailand. I could easily see settling into a bowl of this on a winter’s day. Andy Ricker says it’s typically made with chunks of pork blood cake. I couldn’t detect any that day. If Chef Nicky is being shy with the blood I’d advise her not to be. After all nobody else in the neighborhood is holding back.
We also tried a lovely fried red snapper strewn with mango, cashew nuts, and peanuts swimming in a spicy sauce. Things got off to a promising start with mu ping—grilled pork skewers—and por pia sod ($5.98). The latter was a Chinese-influenced Thai spring roll stuffed with sweet sausage, bean sprouts, crab, and egg.
Best among the appetizers we tried was pla muek yang ($7.98), grilled squid with spicy sauce. The squid was simultaneously tender and charred. Dipped in a zippy sauce singing with lime, chili, and garlic it’s easy to see it’s a popular Thai street food. I’ll go out on a limb and crown it Elmhurst’s best Thai grilled squid.
Paet Rio, 81-10 Broadway, Elmhurst, 917-832-6672