When we heard that Zabb Elee had replaced the very mediocre Le Da Nang, we were very excited, primarily because we live within walking distance of the restaurant and the East Village is in need of some Isan (the region of Northern Thailand near Laos) cuisine. So obviously we had to check out the new spot. And we have to admit, we were pretty stoked by what we found.
Pla goong ($9), steamed shrimp with Thai herbs and chile lime dressing, ranked as our favorite dish of the evening. Big tender shrimp were tossed with lots of lemongrass and sliced shallots, along with lashings of fiery chiles and mint. The heat from the peppers lingers in your mouth for sure, but the flavors were spot-on and vibrant. A must-order.
Larb, ground meat tossed with shallots, mint, cilantro, scallions, chile, lime, and ground toasted rice powder, is hugely popular in the Isan region, so we had to sample the version here. All varieties are $9, and we opted for the duck, which had a nice texture, thanks to the addition of skin cracklings. It could have been slightly spicier, but overall a good dish and not too dry, as often occurs with larb. And with it, we ordered the requisite side of sticky rice ($2).
We also tried the toam zabb kha moo ($9), spicy-lemongrass- and galangal-infused soup with pork leg, mushrooms, cabbage, and long beans. The soup packed good heat, which was tempered with a sourness indicative of the cuisine. The vegetables weren’t totally exciting, and we were looking for something a bit more substantial, but not a bad dish.
Finally, among the heftier dishes, we tucked into kra pao moo korb ($9), crispy pork with basil, red peppers, and oyster sauce. The meat was indeed nicely crispy, though a touch fatty, although the sauce proved a little too sweet for our palate.
All in all, Zabb Elee is a worthy addition to the neighborhood, especially since there isn’t much Isan food in Manhattan. The food is tasty and reasonably priced, and best of all (well, OK, at least for us), they deliver.