Zabb Queens

Saturday, August 25th, 2007 | All Things, Eats

Isan (or Esan, E-sarn, Isaan or Issan), the Northeast region of Thailand, is edged by Laos and historically, inhabitants of this area identify closely with Laotians in culture and cuisine. The food of Isan, while similar to that served around Bangkok in the south, has its own distinct, rustic flavor and generally tends be spicier. Much is dictated by the region’s harsh environment: while Central and Southern Thailand are lush and fertile, Isan, by contrast, is a poor region, situated on a high, semi-arid plateau, and given to frequent droughts. Whereas the mid-region and south’s staple is jasmine rice, Isan grows crops such as maize and the hardier glutinous (sticky) rice, neither of which require flooded paddies to flourish.

One of the best places to sample the cuisine of this region is Zabb Queens located along the same stretch of Jackson Heights’s Roosevelt Avenue as the Burmese Café (and just a couple doors from Korean fried chicken purveyor, UFC, where we loitered a bit for some much-needed air-conditioned relief.) Despite its off-the-beaten path locale and small, unremarkable frontage, several of the NYC media outlets have keyed into this little restaurant over the past couple of years… and I suppose once The Times enters the picture, one probably can’t really describe the place as “under-the-radar.”


We were Zabb’s first — and for the duration of our meal: only — customers this sweltering Saturday afternoon. On the extensive menu: pages of salads (such as som tam (papaya salad) and laab (ground meat salad) — both staples in fuel-scarce Isan), hearty soups, noodles, curries, and meal-size soups.

Most of the restaurant’s reviews praise the Isan specialty sausage, so we made sure to sample an order: they arrived bias-cut and warm, accompanied by whole fiery chilies and roasted peanuts. Tangy and smoky, and flecked with pepper and fat – like a cross between kielbasa (or “kielbara” as they were described on the menu) and Chinese lop cheong.

Zabb Thai sausage

Instead of the curries (which I’d read are not the region’s or the restaurant’s strength), curry puffs:

Zabb curry puffs

Pad Kra Prow Lard Kaw: sauteed ground beef with basil sauce —

Zabb pad kra prow

Pad Kee Mao: sauteed drunken noodles with tofu, chili, and basil leaves —

Zabb pad kee mao

The terrific flavors packed quite a kick, which were soothed by our meal-ending green tea ice cream. (Zabb offers durian ice cream, too.)

Zabb ice cream

Last year, Zabb Queens opened its own East Village outpost, Zabb City, much to the delight of outer borough-averse chowhounds. Naturally, the inevitable comparisons with what most consider the gold standard of NYC Thai food abound; for their part, New York magazine declares, “Zabb could give Sripraphai… a run for its money.”

There are 3 Comments ... Zabb Queens

September 5, 2007

My lord, what a muggy day!

September 5, 2007

I’ve heard zabb has the best drunken noodle; yet to try it but I will say it pretty much sucks everywhere else, even at venerable sripraphai (noodles are not their strong suit). had that sausage at chao thai in elmhurst; loved all the condiment/accessory stuff that came with it. the food looks luscious; I usually skip curry puffs and the like (preferring ga-lei-gau from chinese bakeries). next time try chao thai; had a few delicious meals there before (crispy pork in a dry prkih king curry was a standout) and somewhat seen as the new sri-killer, at about 1/8 the size no less.

September 5, 2007

Ah, thanks for the tip on Chao Thai. Hopstop directs me to Elmhurst Avenue on the V? Will have to check that out.
I too enjoy the curry pastry at the Chinese bakeries — assuming those are the ones to which you refer? Heck, I may just be a sucker for anything in a pastry puff.

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