Thursday, April 28, 2011

Zabb Elee: A Cheap Thai Superstar

Juicy Thai papaya salad
The East Village is blessed to get the first Manhattan outpost of Zabb Elee, a seriously delicious Northeastern Thai restaurant from Queens.

Chef Ratchanee Sumpatboon showcases her heritage from the Isan region with a beautifully presented menu of traditional dishes. What does that mean? No pad Thai and not a green curry in sight. Instead, wake up your taste buds with fiery chilis, fresh papaya salads (som tum) and grilled meats (yang). In fact, chili is the star of the region, so expect a lot of kick. I am in heaven.

Portions are generous (made to share) and prices are shockingly reasonable. With most dishes at $9, Zabb Elee officially tops the KikaEats Cheap Eats list.

There are a half dozen varieties of spicy larb salads - mince meat in a fresh lime dressing with chilis, mint, cilantro and scallions. Along with basic ground chicken or pork, choices include catfish, and vegetarian bamboo shoot.

Fiery chicken larb
The refreshing green papaya salads - som tum - are my favorite and the heat level is made to order. I ordered the som tum Thai (dried shrimp and peanuts) with 'medium heat' for the table and it still made my experienced eyes tear. Traditionally eaten with sticky rice, these salads just burst with flavor, crunch and tang. My dining companions were overwhelmed with the spiciness, so don't be afraid to order it 'mild.'

Pork balls
'Yang' means grilled and there is a variety of meat - heavy on the pork- and seafood options. Only the grilled pork balls - lookchin moo yang - were surprisingly bland and forgettable.

The menu is extensive and the service is attentive and helpful. It was pleasantly low key on two recent evenings. I suspect that will change soon.

75 2nd Ave (between E 5th and 6th Sts)
Mon - Sun 11:30 am - 1 am
212 505 9533

Zabb Elee on Urbanspoon

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