Ayada Thai has certainly done its part to support Elmhurst's reputation for attracting highly regarded Thai restaurants, many of which have sprung up around the Buddhist temple that sits just one block from Ayada. Food critics have praised the eatery's uncompromising nature, as when the New York Times' Ligaya Mishan called the som tum "thrilling" for piling on the red-hot chilies that many Thai restaurants fear will overwhelm non-natives. Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice singles out another highlight: the kang som sour curry, a soupy shrimp curry he calls a "revelation" because of its sour tamarind paste and ability to be read like tea leaves to predict when parking meter rates are going up.
In the 19th century, British rule in the city of Nanking created an influx of travelers from abroad, uniquely altering the local cuisine in the process. The cooks at Nanking continue this hodgepodge culinary philosophy with a menu that seamlessly blends Chinese, Thai, and Indian dishes. Diners can explore a diverse array of lamb, goat, and vegetarian dishes from India or Asian chicken and noodle dishes, garnished with Indian herbs or smothered in Manchurian sauces.
Chao Thai’s narrow storefront gives way to a compact eatery decorated with little beyond a few wall hangings. But those who press past the unassuming facade are rewarded with dishes that don't skimp on the fiery flavors—if they can convince their servers they really do want true "Thai spicy" and not the comparatively mild "American spicy."
"It sounds like an NYU student’s dream come true," Time Out New York said about Cafetasia, "a sleek eatery on 8th Street serving dishes for less than $10." Indeed, the eatery stands out as a Greenwich Village haven for patrons seeking an innovative dining experience that nonetheless manages to feel inviting and deeply familiar. This sense of déjà vu is most likely triggered by Cafetasia’s cafeteria-style wooden tables—imported from Europe one splinter at a time and reassembled here. These communal tables invite guests to share elbow space as well as a bit of conversation with their fellow diners, much like in a college dining hall.
And much like a dining hall, the menu emphasizes the power of choice by offering a spread of tapas-style small plates; however, the chefs' skills with pan-Asian flavors elevate the cuisine above any cafeteria buffet. Borders don't constrain the chefs' ambition, and they jump from Japan and China to Thailand and Vietnam as they forge their shareable plates. In addition to curries tinged with aromatic doses of basil, pumpkin, or roasted chilies, the menu features teriyaki-glazed chicken, spring rolls with a pineapple-vinaigrette dipping sauce, and ginger-kissed chicken gyoza, which New York magazine called "addictive."
Cafetasia's dining room's décor also aims for a balance between the modern and the familiar. Suspended electric candlesticks seem to float above the tables, casting their gentle light across the rich wooden walls and ceiling. A burnished Buddha statue and a leafy potted plant lend a bit of traditional flair to the restaurant's warm and inviting ambiance.
Lantern Thai crafts inventive and authentic Thai dishes, each elegantly arranged on crisp geometric plates, inside a cinnamon-hued space. Beneath circular chandeliers reminiscent of medieval candelabras, appetizers rejoin ingredients in tasty combinations such as the Lantern’s Angel’s shrimp fried in a coating of crispy angel-hair noodles served with honey-chili dipping sauce. A rainbow of curries sinks beef, chicken, and shrimp into vibrant broths flavored with complex spice blends, and iconic Thai dishes marry noodles and fried rice to bell peppers, pineapple, and meats or veggies. The lengthy drink menu includes three types of saki, lychee-spiked mimosas and mojitos, draft beer, and wine to wet whistles or grease bike chains in a pinch.
The classic Thai curries and noodle dishes that stock Asiam Thai's huge menu come to life amid artistic garnishes of carrots and cilantro perched on funky, sculptural dishes. Cucumbers and scallions lend a crunch to duck rolls encased in pastry shells and drenched in tamarind hoisin. Protein choices such as tofu, chicken, and beef can star in creamy, coconut-based curries and tangles of glass noodles alongside more exotic options such as vegetarian duck, squid, or scallops. A sleek, black corner storefront with floor-to-ceiling windows frames the riot of color on the plates, and the dark-wood bar that slides along one side of the room beckons quick bites or even quicker naps.