“You have to try the Northern style food at Thai Diva,” my friend Chompoo who knows a thing or too about Thai cuisine told me via Facebook a few weeks ago. And then when the Sunnyside restaurant was favorably reviewed by Eater critic Robert Sietsema another pal said,” I’ll try it if it passes the ‘Joe DiStefano’ test.” Well I’m here to say that Thai Diva passed with flying colors.
My first visit to Thai Diva was with my friend Joel who is even more obsessed with Thai food than I am. When he told his Thai friends back home in Boston that he was visiting Queens to eat at Thai Diva, they immediately began suggesting dishes. One of their recommendations was tum kanoon ($11) a heap of stir-fried young jackfruit shot through with chilies and kaffir lime leaves. It came with some pork crackling and cucumbers. I’m familiar with Indonesian preparation of the fruit wherein it’s cooked with coconut milk and aromatics to a brisket like texture. Tum kanoon is somewhat less mellow with a good amount of chili heat balanced out by the aromatic lime. Cucumbers and sticky rice help temper the fire.
My buddy was less keen on one of his friends’ other suggestion: khanom jeen nam ngiao ($13). Typically the noodles served alongside spicy pork stew are funky and fermented. There was no funk to be found in Thai Diva’s vermicelli though. With its tomato base and deep porkiness khanom jeen nam ngiao eats like a Thai style pork ragu. Plumb the fiery depths to find meaty pork ribs and dried dok ngiw flowers. Some people eat it by pouring the broth over a tangle of noodles. I prefer it as a soup, adding the noodles to the bowl and topping the whole lot with the accompanying sprouts, pickled mustard greens, and pork crackling. The crunchy curlicues complete a porcine trifecta with the ribs and ground pork.
Luke chin ping ($9) are skewers of pork or beef balls served with a sweet chili dipping sauce. We ordered the pork variety, which had a lovely char.
The only dish I didn’t really dig was the nam prik noom ($9) which combines roasted green chilies with shallots and garlic. It was tasty but the flavors kept reminding me of Mexican food. Joel had no such cultural confusion and couldn’t stop raving about it.
“Are you okay with spicy?” the waitress asked a diner on my second visit. (Incidentally that second visit was a solo mission to revisit the stir-fried jackfruit and the pork ragu.) He was ordering from the restaurant’s regular menu, which includes such farang friendly favorites as drunken noodles, pad thai, and pineapple fried rice. Order off the Northern Menu and you won’t be asked a thing about spice levels. You’ll have it the way the Diva cooks it!
The Diva in question is head cook Kwanthong Jamsaidee who runs the restaurant with her daughters, Rattanaporn Jamteetaree and Vasinee Levy. Jamsaidee and her daughters are from Chiang Mai in northern Thailand. She’s hardly a diva though. When I saw her and exclaimed “Aroy mak,” or delicious in Thai, she smiled and headed back into the kitchen.
Thai Diva Cuisine, 45-53 46th St., Sunnyside, 929-208- 0282