If you were on NYC social media on Friday afternoon, or love someone who was, you are probably aware that a tremendous storm swept through the city. Some people may have thought this would lead to restaurant reservation cancellations, freeing up space for those of us too busy, lazy or just plain forgetful to have made dinner plans. But this wasn’t so at Wayla, the homestyle Thai restaurant on the Lower East Side that rose to local fame for its noodle-wrapped meatballs seemingly overnight when it opened in 2019. There was not a Resy seat in sight.
Wayla is still so popular that there aren’t any traditionally “primetime” tables for the next two weekends, either. But, although it did become popular quicker than a lot of places, that wasn’t exactly immediate.
“The first couple weeks it was actually really quiet and there were just a couple people trickling in here and there because it was pretty difficult to find Wayla, being in the basement,” says Wayla partner Erika Chou.
“And then all of the sudden it just took off. People just loved the overall experience, the backyard and the design and the food is something that’s done so well and so simply that it really feels homey and nourishing. It's just a place that you can go back to multiple times a week. And it really just became, quickly, a neighborhood little gem.”
Now there’s another option for Wayla’s coveted menu items: its new spot at Time Out Market New York, near the Dock Street seats. Here, you’ll find honey pork spare ribs (Chou cautions not to overlook the house pickles on the side), chicken wings, lump crab fried rice, and some items you won’t see even when you can get a table at Wayla.
“We just went into the space to see what’s there and what could be done, and picked out some favorites from Wayla that make sense for here,” Chou says.
“Even though it is such a small kiosk, we wanted to be able to provide some substantial meals for people. And we also have some quick simple things for the papaya salad, but we really expanded that section where you can kind of add on some different things and we have this really cool savory fruits version, which I feel like you don’t really see around that often. But that one’s really good, it’s really special, and those are some unique things that you actually can’t get at Wayla in the Lower East Side, so we thought that was kind of fun.”
They’re also doing a raw bar on weekends at the Market.
“It’s so amazing. It’s like make-your-own kind of seafood platter,” Chou says.
“We bring over oysters, clams, lobster, and we make these really nice Thai seafood sauces that they often serve in Bangkok. If you want a little twist on a seafood platter you can try it there. I’ve already gone twice to get it, it’s really good. We make this gigantic block of ice and then we hand-carve it and put the seafood on there so it’s really cool and fun and a little theatrical. Because it is all about having fun.”
The casual, sprawling environment that surrounds Wayla’s Market location and its buildable, walk-away raw bar are, of course, a zag away from a standard sit-down dinner. Chou’s own dining habits have changed, too, now that she has a 10-month-old baby.
“For us, we’re like, ok, we need a five-o-clock reservation, like in and out kind of a thing,” she says. “It's like, I don’t need to pace my meal, just bring it all so we can eat it and hopefully nothing happens and we can go. I’m like, just bring it out, it’s fine, don’t worry.”
Wayla’s Market location is also particularly convenient for Chou.
“We’re really doing well on the Lower East Side and people always ask if we’re going to expand or do a new project,” she says. “And I travel in from Brooklyn, and there are days when I just want to eat Wayla food but they don’t deliver to Brooklyn, so when this opportunity came up we were like, hey, this is perfect. I think it's fun to be within a food hall, too, where we can have a focused menu and try out a new neighborhood.”
“Things are happening, we’re all doing exciting things, the city’s coming back, we’re here and really excited about the summer,” she says.