“Spicy really means spicy” at this Woodside Thai ranked “head, shoulders and waist” above the competition (and voted No. 1 for the genre); success has led to a “remodeling” and “long lines”, but it still “lives up to its reputation” for “cheap”, “thrilling” eating.



A Thai Pilgrimage Leads to Queens


If you drew a straight line from midtown Manhattan to the restaurant Sripraphai in the Woodside section of Queens, it would not cross Kennedy Airport. It would not even come close. But my map reading skills are so poor, and my sense of direction so pitiful, that on a recent night a friend and I found ourselves barreling down the road toward long-term parking when we were supposed to be bound for short-term Thai. I had been entrusted with navigating while he drove, and this was a colossal mistake.

The trip took us nearly two hours. The friendship almost flat-lined.

Almost, but not quite, and that is a measure of the pleasure of Sripraphai (pronounced see-PRA-pie). He needed only a few spoonfuls of fragrant, revivifying tom yum soup to forget our odyssey. By the time he sampled the restaurant's roasted duck salad, its curry rice noodles and its sautéed "drunken" noodles, I had traveled in his estimation from cretin to genius, villain to hero, a culinary Columbus who had discovered an untrammeled new world. In truth I had followed the footprints of others. I just had not done so very concisely or coherently.

Sripraphai has been around for more than a decade, and the most committed restaurant adventurers from outside Queens have long made pilgrimages to it. But plenty of less obsessive food lovers who would gladly venture to Woodside for something special do not know that this delicious destination awaits. They should. Sripraphai is to your corner Thai takeout what P. D. James is to Mary Higgins Clark: the real deal, well worth the extra time and effort.

It is also about to expand and visually improve. Its Thai owner, Sripraphai Tipmanee, recognized that the original dining room, always spartan and charmless, had descended perhaps too far into outright frumpiness, and so she closed it last week for renovations and has moved for a month to an adjacent room next door, where the new blond wood furniture, black lacquered tables and clay-colored tile floor offer a preview of the restaurant's spiffier future. Come December, she said, the wall will come down, and Sripraphai will double to about 70 seats (not counting a back garden).

I doubt it will bloom into a raving beauty, and I do not care. About the food at Sripraphai there can be no sarcasm and little complaint.

I ordered that roasted duck salad on two occasions, rationalizing that I was performing a vital check of the restaurant's consistency and almost believing my argument. The truth: I was wild about this dish, and only partly because the ribbons of duck were more tender and flavorful than meat at many similarly inexpensive Asian restaurants, which tend to stint on the quality of flesh. What struck me even more forcefully were the variety and coordination of vegetables, herbs, spices and accents in the salad. Scallions, red onions, cucumbers, tomato, cilantro, lime juice, fish sauce, dried chili peppers and ground peanuts were all present in perfect proportion and perfect counterpoint, something tangy yielding to something soothing, a burst of cool mellowing a bit of fire.

The balance of sweet, sour, salty and hot is what is often praised about Thai cooking, which focuses on bold flavors in blissful harmony. But at too many Thai restaurants in this country and this city the heat is tempered and the sweetness amplified as concessions to American palates. The spices are muted, the herbs less fresh than they could be and the lemon grass permitted to run roughshod over all else. Not at Sripraphai. Here the star anise, coriander and galangal sing clearly, identifiable voices that swell and recede as they hew to their carefully calibrated roles in a broader chorus.

Sripraphai dutifully performs the requisite paces for a Thai restaurant in New York. You can have your pad thai and your chicken satay, and you can rest assured that this restaurant's executions of them will be very fine. You can have your curries, and I can promise that none of them will disappoint you, although all of them may surprise you, because they have nuances and a nimbleness often lacking in the curries at lesser Thai restaurants. You can have a classic dish of ground pork with ginger, chili and tart citrus, and you will indeed find peanuts in the mix, but you will not find an overload of them. Sripraphai veers away from such easy effects.

But you can also make less conventional choices, and I would urge you to. Try, for example, the beef tendon soup, which comes in light or dark broths, the latter signaling the presence of blood. Several friends and I went the dark route and found ourselves engrossed by the hints of cinnamon and the salty bits of crackling that peeked through and crucially leavened the bluntness of everything around it. Try the pickled barbecued pork, which has a bracing tartness that does to your palate what astringent does to your skin.

I was impressed by the deft seasoning and cooking of the pork, beef and chicken that appeared in a variety of ways and a variety of dishes, my favorite being those long, broad, flat drunken noodles, entwined with red peppers, green peppers, garlic, holy basil and fish and soy sauces. I was less impressed with the seafood. A disappointing papaya salad featured hard shrimp, tough calamari and relatively tasteless mussels.

Sripraphai has additional limitations. It does not sell alcohol, although you can come with your own, and a nearby store sells beer. Its mostly gelatinous, often cloying Thai desserts, on display in prepackaged containers in the dining room, are not for everyone (and were not for me).

But the bang for buck here is atomic. For those without wheels or navigational skills, the 61st Street stop on the No. 7 train is nearby. The smiling servers are both kind and wise: if you puff up your chest and request your dishes very spicy, they will rightly redirect you to moderately spicy, which is spicy enough. Like Pam Real Thai in Midtown and too few other Thai restaurants in New York, this one does not pander. But it sure does delight.

 

Sripraphai Thai Restaurant in Woodside - Restaurant Review

Sripraphai in Woodside deserves its reputation as the best Thai restaurant in New York City. Its menu ranges way beyond the standard Thai eatery, offering bold, authentic Thai flavors. If you love Thai food, this is the place to go. If you don't get Thai food, this is the place to go. You owe yourself a short trip on the 7 subway to this humble, great restaurant.
Once a local hole-in-the-wall, Sripraphai became a more welcoming Ikea-decorated space thanks to a 2004 renovation. The food didn't lose any of its luster (or spice), but you can now enjoy your fried watercress salad and cold beer in a sunny backyard garden.
  • Exceptional Thai food. Unusual, authentic taste
  • Very affordable prices, extensive menu
  • Outdoor garden seating
  • A "foodie" destination restaurant in Queens
  • Golden Apple award from NYC Department of Health (as of 2/08)
Consistently praised by food critics and locals, Sripraphai is a neighborhood Thai place that has become a destination restaurant for foodies throughout New York and beyond. They come for some of the best Thai food in New York.

 
 
For years, Sripraphai has been the defiantly delicious rebuttal to complaints that you can't get good Thai food in New York. A recent, relatively glitzy expansion gave some pause—would a dressed-up Srip become a watered-down victim of its own success? Not at all: Crispy dried catfish, fiery beef panang, and minced pork with chilies, peanuts, and lemon juice are as good as ever. The pad might be fancier, but not the pad Thai. — Rob Patronite and Robin Raisfeld



Golden Apple Award Winner


The Golden Apple Quality Improvement Initiative is a program aimed at increasing food safety in New York City's food service establishments. It provides both assistance and incentive to achieve and maintain the highest standards in food safety.

 

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