When I write about restaurants on Instagram, they’re usually brief takes accompanied by a photo or two. (You can see my feed right here on ethnojunkie.com, updated almost daily, by selecting the “Instagram” category from my home page – no signup required.) But because of Instagram’s character count limitations, it’s often necessary to break up a review into several parts. This one originally appeared as six posts, published on January 27-29 and March 1-3, 2020.
I was no stranger to the food at Am Thai Bistro on Church Ave in Brooklyn and always thought it was a cut above the norm for the area (if not especially creative) so I surmised we’d be in relatively good hands at its owner’s new undertaking, Thai Cook in Elmhurst. Sharing space with iCook Buffet, a BBQ/hotpot place at 81-17 Broadway, the menu couldn’t be more different from its Flatbush sibling; IMO this venture is the real deal and easily stands up to its neighborhood Thai competitors of renown.
Ten of us assembled there for lunch (which is code for we had the opportunity to taste ten different dishes) and another six for dinner (and another six dishes) and therein lies the rub: we all agreed that everything we ordered was outstanding, so I’m stymied by culinary mastery and can’t recommend favorites. Therefore let us stipulate that you won’t go wrong with any of the items in this post (presented in no particular order). Incidentally, don’t forget to order sticky rice with your meal. Some dishes do come with regulation rice – see photos – but all of the sauces are so delicious that you’ll surely want some sticky rice to soak up every drop!
(Click any photo to view in glorious high resolution.)
We started with Fresh Crepe: a rice flour wrap swaddling bean curd, sweet radish, and chives served with sweet soy-garlic sauce. I believe the crispy bits were Thai cuisine’s answer to chicharrones; they elevated the dish significantly.
Amazingly tender scored squid with sweet/sour/spicy sauce and peanuts. More yummy crispy bits.
From the Papaya Salad section of the menu. Mixed seafood (with that incredibly tender squid), blue crab, shrimp, and New Zealand mussels. Very spicy.
We opted for shrimp although crab and veggie versions are available; it highlights oyster mushrooms, celery, sliced ginger, pork belly, and glass noodles and is served with their signature Millionaire sauce. The sauce is chef Boonnum Thongngoen’s custom recipe for the classic Thai sauce of chilies, garlic, shallots, cilantro, sawtooth coriander, makrut lime leaf, fish sauce and lime juice. She named it in honor of her husband who lost a metaphorical million in failed restaurants back in Thailand but retained his family recipe for the bespoke sauce. Excellent.
Yum, the onomatopoeically named Thai salad, typically features one or two key ingredients accompanied by some form of allium along with fresh herbs and is characterized by a dressing of fish sauce, lime juice, lemongrass, garlic, sugar, and chilies – always plenty of chilies. This yum set the spotlight on flavorful Pork Liver with red onion and scallions pointed up with cilantro and mint; perfect for this liver lover.
Another yum, in this case with oysters (they’re in there), accompanied by red onion and scallions in cilantro/mint/lime sauce with crispy fried shallots on top and their signature Millionaire dressing on the side. Good stuff.
From the Steamed portion of the menu, sliced pork rolled around tiny enoki mushrooms with a lemongrass, mint, cilantro, chili, and fresh lime juice dressing.
Not a squid: those are the enoki mushrooms oozing out of the pork!
From the Noodle & Rice section of the menu. Spicy Southern Thai yellow curry with vermicelli noodles and pickled mustard greens. No discernable crab meat, but the flavor was there. And a hardboiled egg.
Also from the Noodle & Rice corner, Home Cooked Style Panang Curry (coconut milk) with beef. We did the pork version at a subsequent meal; both were great. And a hardboiled egg.
From Mom’s Specials, a spicy Southern Thai dish with dried beef and curry paste. And a hardboiled egg.
I asked if there were any specials that day and was rewarded with this grilled striped bass with a perfectly harmonized sauce on the side.
Larb (you might see laab), a spicy ground meat salad with origins in Laos that migrated to the Isaan region of Thailand, shows up among the yums on the menu; moo means pork (easy to remember because of the barnyard irony). This one costars ground pork and pork intestine in a chili lime dressing. Good stuff.
Speaking of yums (in both languages), this Yum with Pressed Pork & Egg Yolk is worth getting and doesn’t duplicate the porks above. If you’ve had Vietnamese bánh mì, chances are you’ve had pressed pork, a delicious bologna-like sausage. If you haven’t tasted salted duck egg yolk, you need to without further ado.
Ground pork, fish balls, shrimp, and crispy fried pork skin piled on top of rice flour wraps in a spicy tom yum sauce. The fresh crepe Starter without all the accoutrements shown above is fine, but look to the Noodle & Rice section of the menu for this (even better IMO) choice.
There are nine variations on the theme of Papaya Salad on the menu, all of which are pretty spicy, so be forewarned.
Thai Cook is located at 81-17 Broadway in Elmhurst, Queens. It shares a space with iCook Buffet and once inside it’s easy to access one from the other, but cognoscenti will use the entrance on the right and walk down the hallway to hit the heights directly.