Zaab Zaab is a highly rated New York Times restaurant that serves North Eastern Thai food. We have been trying various Thai flavors that are very different than your typical Thai restaurant. I’ve noticed that these North/Eastern restaurants tend to have much more bolder and spicier flavors that are a bit more adventurous than what you’d normally expect. This is located fairly close to the 7 or E train by exiting off Jackson Heights / Roosevelt Ave. We walked in on an early Friday evening around 5:30 PM for 2 people.
The interior was decorated with a lot of white, and had a beachy type of vibe to it. Seating was very tightly packed. They seated us in a small 2-person table fairly close to other 2-person parties. We ordered 3 things, but it was large enough such that they gave us a little side table to place our drinks on.
The service was very fast, and the wait staff explained to us how the spice level here is much greater than normal Thai restaurants.
When we paid, they bring the remote card readers to your table, so make sure to calculate your tips beforehand if you don’t want to pay tip on top of tax.
The Thai Iced Tea ($5 per drink) tasted pretty good. It wasn’t super sweet, and the flavors helped battle some of the spice.
The Moo Tod Pla Ra ($16.95) came with fried pork belly marinated in fermented fish sauce. This reminded me of Taiwanese fried pork chops in that the pork was fried and flavored in a similar way. We did like this a lot, though be careful because there are a lot of bones.
The Som Tum Pla Ra with Black Crab ($18) came with sour spicy shredded green papaya, lime juice, and birdseye chilies hand pounded in a clay pot. It came Isan style with Chef Aniwat’s house-fermented fish sauce. We thought this would be similar to regular Thai papaya salad, but we got a little more than we bargained for. This was pretty spicy for us. Luckily, the heat was not very painful nor long lasting. It fades away pretty quickly, but it can easily ramp up if you’re not careful. The raw black crab didn’t have much meat, but it definitely gave it some oceany flavors to it. You can chew on some of the shell/innards to get some of the flavors. The sauce as a whole had a little of that crab seafood taste to it, so it’s definitely more of an acquired taste.
The Mieng Pla Pow ($36) came with Chef Aniwat’s salt-encrusted signature marinated tilapia in cumin, garlic, and white pepper. It was stuffed with pandan and lemongrass then charcoal roasted. It was served with kanom jeen noodles (rice vermicelli) and came with tamarind peanut and nam jim sauces. The fish was very flavorful eaten by itself, and we loved wrapping it with the condiments. You can make a lettuce wrap out of this, and it’s quite delicious. The condiments (dill/mint/cilantro) are all very fresh, and make a nice combination with the fish. Just be careful of the nam jim sauce (top). I foolishly added a spoonful of that, and it spiked up the heat very fast where I was suffering for a few minutes. I ended up enjoying the tamarind peanut sauce instead because it was not as spicy. The fish itself was very easy to pick out the bones, but it was also very easy to miss picking out some of the smaller bones.
Zaab Zaab is quite an exquisite Thai restaurant nestled in Elmhurst. I think if we visit this place again, we should be more cautious about what “spicy” really means here. We noticed that other diners were less adventurous with their orderings. Regardless, we did enjoy our meal despite this being out of our comfort zone. The fish and pork were pretty good, but we did not enjoy the crab papaya salad as much. Definitely check out Zaab Zaab if you’re looking for an atypical Thai restaurant in the NYC area. It definitely has very different flavor profiles that can be very good if you order right for your taste buds.
Another note is, the staff doesn’t ask how spicy you want your dishes, so everything comes out on the low-medium spicy level.
The staff did ask us if we wanted it spicy, and we told them we’d prefer the lowest spice level on everything.
I went to this Thai place with one of my groups. They listed we’d be inside but with our size, we were sat outside which was a slight issue with the heat though it was covered.
This restaurant is fairly small, and most of the larger seating spaces are outside. I know extroverted people want to be around lots of people when they eat, but just know that it will feel tight here.
- Aug 19, 2022 - Initial revision.