I was recently invited to a press dinner at Larb Ubol. What grabbed my attention about the written invite was that it spoke about authentic Isan Thai food. Different from the more well known Thai food scattered throughout the city, their Thai food focuses on northern flavors like coconut milk, and southern cooking techniques like fusion cooking. Their mission is to introduce people to traditional Northeastern Thai food, which is really spicy and fresh, and known for saltiness. This is not the sweet, Americanized crap you might find in the burbs.
The place was crowded by 7pm. This is a good sign, because it means people are interested in REAL Thai food. It’s wisely located in a very vibrant food area on 9th avenue between 36th and 37th. Pretty decor, casual fun atmosphere.
We started with some Thai iced tea. It was delicious and refreshing, topped with little flower made from the straw wrapper.
My wife and I shared the larb duck (ped larb). It was crispy, spicy, fresh, and savory. Really great crispy duck skin was sprinkled in with the ground duck meat. It was served with fresh herbs, like mint and cilantro, chili, onion, fish sauce, cabbage and celery.
That was pretty spicy and salty, so I cooled down with a Lao lager.
We also shared grilled squid (pla muk yang). This had a good char and was perfectly cooked, clean, and simple. Add some fresh cracked pepper on it, and it’s a star dish.
My wife ordered the red snapper for her entrée (larb pla kra pong). Unbelievable presentation. It was a gorgeous full fish, fried crispy with scallions, chili, onion and herbs. The skin was so crispy that it reminded us of baked chicken wing skin. So tasty.
I had the crispy pork with Thai eggplant (pad ped moo krob). The pork was belly meat, and was like thick chunks of spicy bacon candy. So fucking good. And this was a steer in the right direction, by the way. Our waitress pointed us to the jewels of this place when she realized what we were after as we ordered: crispy duck, crispy pork. Initially I was going to order duck stew with Chinese broccoli (broccolini) for my entrée and pork larb to start, but she pointed me to the larb duck and this pork dish instead. Well done. This was great, especially with the sticky rice that we ordered on the side.
For dessert we tried coconut ice cream and Thai shaved ice. Both were garnished with corn kernels and sweet gelatins. The shaved ice reminded us of the dessert drinks in Vietnamese cuisine, only more solid. However the strawberry bubblegum-esque sort of flavoring was a bit off to us, but it was still refreshing and contrasted nicely after all the salty and spicy food we just ate. The coconut ice cream was smooth and creamy, and had coconut shavings in it.
Also worth noting: the food portions are big here. I even noticed the noodle dishes at neighboring tables were big enough for two to share. And, most importantly, the food was so good that I found myself looking forward to eating the leftovers for lunch.
480 9th Ave.
New York, NY 10018