If the refreshing flavors of Somtum Der in the East Village are any indication, Isan cuisine is the antidote to the too-sweet noodles Americans commonly mistake for Thai food. Take a seat in the bright, wood-paneled dining room, and soon you’ll see why the restaurant, which also boasts locations in Bangkok and Ho Chi Minh City, recently earned a Michelin star.
Som tum is the namesake dish of the eatery, a papaya salad made in several variations. Choose the Tum Thai Kai Kem ($11). It’s flecked with bits of soft-cooked, salted egg yolks, which provide a soothing counterpoint to the heat of the chilies. It hurts so good, so get it as spicy as you can stand. The grill adds smoky notes to skewers of coconut-scented sticky rice ($4), which are chewy, addictive and necessary to put out the flames.
Ground pork, herbaceous greens and fiery peppers mingle in the Larb Moo ($9), a dish that makes you wonder how you lived before it. Another star is the Sa Poak Kai Tod Der ($8), chicken thighs pounded flat and fried to a greaseless finish—the Thai schnitzel of your dreams. There are some recognizable Central Thai noodle dishes, too, but the Isan food shines the brightest, especially when paired with an ice-cold Singha beer.
Service is warm and friendly, if a bit erratic—it can be hard to find someone to fill water glasses, especially in the midst of a chili-induced hot flash. Tables fill up on weeknights, and missteps are few: The Moo Ping Kati Sod ($10), pork skewers marinated in coconut milk, were drab compared to other plates, and the pungent herbs in the Gaeng Om Kai ($11), an Isan chicken soup, render the dish overwhelming. But overall, Somtum Der is an oasis of delicious, authentic Thai food.
BY: TIME OUT COMMUNITY REVIEWER LINDSAY DENNINGER