Best Thai Food: An Introduction at Sripraphai

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Come along, everybody. I’m working on a story for Rockland and Intown Westchester magazines about the best Thai food in the Lower Hudson Valley.

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I’ve traveled in Thailand and done my scholarly research too, learning about the influences of Chinese and Indian cooking in Thai cuisine, learning about incorporating the five flavors (salty, sweet, bitter, sour and spicy) and the essence of good balance. But, I thought — before I start, I need to pay a visit to what most people say is the best Thai restaurant around: Sripraphai in Queens.

I’ve always wanted to to Sripraphai (pronounced see-pra-pie), ever since I heard rumblings about it online in the late 90s. I’m sorry I waited so long. Above, is the larb, made with chicken, mint, cilantro, chilis, lime juice, fish sauce and toasted rice, which gives it a lovely crunch a little like pop rocks. It was well-balanced and had more fish sauce than I’ve tasted at other Thai places, which perhaps try to dumb down that flavor, which, since it tastes salty and fermented, might not appeal to all Americans. And man oh man it was spicy. It had me reaching for my Singha over and over!

Speaking of Americans, they do give us foreigners a picture menu along with the regular menu at Sripraphai.

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It’s kind of funny — it matches up with the regular menu by number and letter. So, for example, if you’re interested in the Tom Kai Gai soup, which, on the printed menu says S-8 “Chicken soup with mushrooms, coconut milk and galanga,” you can turn to S-8 in the picture book and get a look at it, and see the English translation of its Thai name.

Or, or course, you can just order it and see what comes out:

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It was delicate — not salty and overwhelmed by coconut milk as so many version are. It had depth and balance, with just a bit of spice from the chili, sweetness from the coconut and brightness from the herbs. I knew I had to save room but I couldn’t stop eating it.

I’ve heard Sripraphai used to be a dump. After it got a ton of press, including a two-star review from The New York Times, it went for a makeover. It’s cleaned up nice. Here’s a look around:

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There’s a garden out back:

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One of my husband’s favorite Thai dishes is chiekcn with basil. On the menu here it’s called “Choice of ground meat with chili and basil over rice.”

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I’m not used to this dish coming with ground meat — I’ve always had it with slices of chicken. But the flavor was nice: not too spicy but enough heat to make you notice.

Green curry with chicken and eggplant:

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This is going to be the curry by which I measure all others. You could drink it like a soup: it wasn’t all thick and laden with coconut, yet had enough thickness to coat the rice and permeate the vegetables and the meat.

This is the dish everyone was raving about, the roasted duck salad:

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I know why now. The duck was meaty and soft, the cucumbers gave it crunch, there was salt and crunch from the peanuts and the mint and cilantro made it fresh. I could have this every day and find new things to love about it.

Unfortunately, we were only two, and that’s all the food I could eat in one sitting. But knowing we wouldn’t be back soon, I decided to get a pad Thai and a massaman curry to go. I won’t judge it on its presentation, but I think the flavor will hold up until lunch today. I’ll let you know.

My only regret? We didn’t get the fried fish with mango sauce. Nearly every table had it and they looked very happy indeed.

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Sripraphai Thai Restaurant, 64-13 39th Ave., Woodside, Queens. 718-899-9599. * They are closed Wednesdays.

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About Author

Liz Johnson is content strategist for The Journal News and lohud.com, and the founding editor of lohudfood, formerly know as Small Bites. As food editor, she won awards from the New York News Publishers Association, the Association of Food Journalists and the Associated Press. She lives in Nyack with her husband and daughter on a tiny suburban lot they call their farm — with fruit trees, an herb garden, and a yardful of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, shallots, cucumbers, zucchini, radishes, cabbage, peppers, Brussels sprouts and carrots and four big blueberry bushes.

7 Comments

  1. The problem I have with many ethnic restaurants , the customers dictate the food. Truly ethnic food is hard to come by, the customers dont want it. they want what is safe. I hate that. many good restaurants have died because they served the food the way it should be cooked.
    Lemon Grass in new city is ok. not stupendous, but i think its pretty much the only Thai place in the area. Luckily they have frog’s legs but its ordered probably so infrequently, they wind up charging quite a bit for it.
    Also, usually it has to be foo foo or take out for most people to go to in this town. down right depressing if you ask me.

  2. Two recommendations for the next time you go to Sripraphai, Liz. 1) Don’t miss the green papaya salad, a cool-hot treat especially nice in the garden come summer, and 2) take me with you.

  3. Liz, We have enjoyed several meals at Sripraphai, but it’s a haul from the lower Hudson Valley. Closer to home, consider trying Garlic and Pepper in Tuckahoe. It’s a delicious sleeper.

  4. This place is AWESOME! Just don’t go there on a Saturday night b/c it’s packed. Great food that is very authentic (and I say that confidently because I’m half Asian). I regularly eat Thai, Cambodian and Filipino food (in fact my family used to own a restaurant in metro-Manila) so it takes a lot to impress me when it comes to Asian food. This one gets my stamp of approval!

  5. Thanks for the recommendation, GES. It’s on the list when I get to reporting the Westchester part of the story later in the month.

    Does anyone else have any recs?

  6. I know this is a little late for the topic of conversation but Thai Golden in Carmel on rt.6 next to McKenzies Tattoo shop is small, cozy/comfortable and no frills. The frills are on the plate as the Tom Yun Koon and Mango Curry with Sticky Rice are amazing.

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