Thanks to places like Michelin-starred Zabb Elee, New Yorkers have become well acquainted with the fiery cuisine of Thailand’s northern Isan region. Now it’s Thai street food’s turn — restaurants serving rich noodle soups, grilled meat, curries, and sticky-sweet desserts like roti are popping up, particularly in the Queens neighborhoods where Southeast Asian spots proliferate. Plant Love House (86-08 Whitney Avenue, Queens; 718-565-2010), which opened on Elmhurst’s Whitney Avenue in December (the popular Chao Thai is a neighbor), may be the cutest and homiest of the bunch.
Despite the name, don’t expect vegetarian. Meat is definitely the star at the restaurant, which has the air of a whimsical sidewalk café but serves seriously rich and complex dishes. In fact, the only vegetable item is the corn fritter, a crowd-pleasing appetizer that predicts the sweetness — though not the spice — to come.
Sitting at the white patio tables, you might expect no more than a good cup of coffee to emerge from the tiny kitchen. Instead there’s num tok, a noodle soup that originated in Thailand’s floating markets. A small bowl could easily pass as an entrée; its broth is muddy with pig’s blood and makes for a sweet, rather than metallic, flavor. There are generous hunks of pork, bitter Chinese broccoli, and springy rice noodles to soak up the rich sauce. If you want the pig without the plasma, try the moo toon noodle, which comes instead with tender pork ribs.
Gang gai is also a good bet: Vermicelli noodles are doused in green curry, the color complemented by the purple skins of eggplant. The milder spice and the coconut milk in the curry are nicely offset by the fresh, herbal intensity of plenty of Thai basil.
Unlike many Thai restaurants, desserts are featured prominently here. Another popular street food, roti, which resembles a fluffy crêpe, has a Japanese flair. It’s served in a skillet with a scoop of matcha ice cream and sweet red beans, and when a server pours green tea over the whole thing, it sizzles like fajitas at Chili’s — only it’s leagues better, if you can devour it before the treat dissolves into green tea soup.
There’s no alcohol, so try a cold drink to counteract the sinus-clearing food — longan juice, say, made with a small, squishy tropical fruit similar to lychee — or chrysanthemum tea. Hardly any of the dishes crack $10, making for happy exploring through the menu.