When a Los Angeles colleague wrote about visiting 40 Thai restaurants in a single week, all in one section of the city, I was frankly jealous. We don’t have anything like that kind of concentration in New York, and it’s often impossible to find the sorts of quirky Thai fare he turned up: grilled mudfish salad, ham hock with house-pickled greens, fried sticky rice with Spam, and raw beef mixed with chiles and that special Thai ingredient, bile. Still, our collection is improving in Queens neighborhoods like Woodside, Elmhurst, and Jackson Heights.
Recently joining Sripraphai in Woodside, just steps north of the LIRR and 61st Street No. 7 station, is Khao Homm. The two gals running the place have striven to make the small premises elegant. As you sit watching a Siamese rapper gesture over the adoring heads of his fans on the TV, the kitchen door swings open blasting warm air tinged with garlic and galangal. The menu is tiny compared to the catalogs you find at lesser joints. Following the example of my West Coast friend, I always go straight to the soups and noodles, because it is there that Thai holes-in-the-wall in Hollywood distinguish themselves. Pad kee mao carries the modest description “sauteed noodle with meat, chili and basil” ($6). The dish, however, is a tour de force: broad rice noodles laced with plenty of onions, Chinese greens, basil leaves fried crisp, and delicate red chiles, with a penumbra of deep red oil oozing around the edges. There is a slight and winning sweetness, a wallop of garlic, and a chile singe that unfolds in your mouth with the first bite. This has to be one of the best Thai noodle dishes in town.
A handful of additional choices at Khao Homm rival these noodles. Attributed to a region of Malaysia, Panang duck ($12) is not the towering frigate of well-browned canvasback you usually find. Rather, the dish is bargelike, lying flat on a long plate engulfed in orange goo. But one taste and you’re hooked, poking your fork here and there in an urgent search for the crisp bits of skin that hide among the planks of chewy flesh. The coconut milk that thickens and mellows the dish is incapable of keeping the fat in check. Another surprise is the dull-sounding beef noodle soup ($6), a rich broth scented with sweet spices that’s as good as the pho in the best Vietnamese places. Instead of thin slices there are big satisfying chunks of meat.
Khao Homm also excels at the familiar Queens Thai standards. A phantom smoky flavor propels nam sod, a salad of ground pork dressed with lime and chiles. Also impressive were a Chinese-leaning dish of broad noodles dressed with sweet soy sauce and tossed with bok choy and bits of fried egg (pad see eew, $6), and a fine $10 set meal that includes half a grilled chicken, a papaya salad, and a basket of sticky rice. One day a pal bravely stormed a nearby table of celebrating Thais and began pointing at several off-menu dishes. As a result we enjoyed splendid rice sausages heaped with slices of raw ginger, and pieces of yummy grilled pork neck coated with cilantro and chopped raw chiles.
A fine selection of snacks is offered on a counter in the rear, including bizarre but delectable fried noodles coated with sugar and little green bits of broccoli flower. Another, called khanom sodsai on the baggie, featured squarish morsels of salt-laced coconut pudding wrapped in banana leaf. As we sat licking our lips following this impromptu dessert, I thought, “This might be Hollywood, but then where are the hookers?”