Some dishes—like a bowl of boat noodles—need no translation. I couldn’t read the menu at Pata Paplean, so I pointed aimlessly and would quickly become a fan: a steaming bowl of broth enhanced by the crimson of pig’s blood, with silky rice noodles, bits of ground pork, a slice of liver and a smattering of herbs on top. It felt like I was in Bangkok. Instead, I found myself at a bar in Elmhurst, Queens—often dubbed New York’s Thai Town.
Nothing appears to add up at Pata Paplean until a bowl of boat noodles appears before you. One chopstick is longer than the other, stuffed animals adorn a light fixture, and a Big Bird vase sits next to antique-looking tchotchkes.
A few things you should know beforehand: This 20-something-seat bar only serves the noodles ($5, cash only) on weekends. The soup portions look like they come from a kid’s menu, but for the price, go ahead and order two (or three). Virtually everything is written in Thai.
So, I convinced a Thai friend to help me navigate this gem. Once at a table, don’t be fazed by the Post-it–size sheets of paper you’ll fill out to place an order. Pick your base among three choices: spicy tom yum, succulent braised pork or the must-order boat noodles. Pick rice or egg noodles. There’s also an option to order the soup “dry,” meaning the broth is served on the side.
If you’re looking for heat, the chili-flecked tom yum hits the spot with a hearty broth that doesn’t overpower. The braised pork is less robust, with the herbs taking center stage. After one bite, you’ll find out there’s no translation needed.