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A New Restaurant Focused on the Hits of Thailand – Eater NY

4 minutes, 20 seconds Read

Nothing can absolve the closing of a local gem like a spectacular follow-up: In the tiny triangular nook that once housed Deksen (which I eulogized back in 2022), Na Rath opened earlier this year, at 86-08 Whitney Avenue, on a curved road between Broadway and 43rd Avenue in Elmhurst, Queens.

Na Rath is run by Naratchira “Ryan” Kunchadechchirawat, a native Thai jack-of-all-trades who has scrimped and saved long enough to bootstrap his mission for bringing the greatest hits of Thai food — in Thailand. I’m still thinking about the whole tilapia delicately steamed in a garlicky lime broth and served in a fish-shaped platter. The shrimp cakes were so bouncy I had to check if there were whole shrimp inside.

A fried whole fish on a plate with vegetables and dipping sauces.

Whole tilapia at Na Rath.
Na Rath.

Fish cakes on a plate with vegetable-carved flowers.

Shrimp cakes at Na Rath.
Na Rath.

Kunchadechchirawat’s perspective speaks to larger immigrant dynamics in New York, where many newcomers — due to factors including language and cultural barriers, the challenge of making lateral career moves in a new country, and the low entry point for restaurant entrepreneurship — find their livelihoods in New York’s diverse dining scene, even without any previous culinary experience. The restaurateurs are then faced with a choice: to focus on the palate and recipes of their own cultural community or to diversify and serve the mainstream. But in Queens — where 53 percent of Thai New Yorkers live, particularly in neighborhoods like Elmhurst and Woodside — it’s a smart bet to cater to the culture.

Na Rath is the culmination of a lifetime of hustling. In 2011, Kunchadechchirawat left a cooking job at a catering company in Thailand to work at food service on cruise ships. Over several years, he burned out from the 4 a.m.-to-midnight work. In 2018, he immigrated to the U.S. — first to Virginia and then New York. He picked up restaurant server and manager shifts seven days a week, launched a side hustle (a catering and florist company called MegaMillions), and picked up a real estate broker license.

“Whatever way I can make money, I’ll do it,” he says.

But deep down, he found himself disheartened by much of what passed for Thai cuisine in the U.S.; he craved his home food so badly. That feeling stayed with him until he decided to do something about it. In 2021, one of his gigs brought him to the Thai Consulate, where he met Anurat Chaiyakhet, a.k.a. Chef Bass, who has cooked at several consulates and embassies from Morocco to Germany. The duo got to talking about opening their dream restaurant, one where, “Thai people can get the food they used to have in Thailand.”

Sum Tom Tad at Na Rath.

Som tum tad at Na Rath.
Na Rath.

Tom yum pork noodle soup in a black bowl.

Tom yum pork noodle soup.
Na Rath.

Recently at Na Rath, the tiny six-table restaurant was packed with boisterous Thai American grandmothers, families, and young professionals who started an impromptu karaoke party. At a recent dinner, Pasinee Pramunwong, a photography teacher, says, “It’s just like food back home. I’m so happy.”

In Chaiyakhet’s tom yum, the saltiness comes from fish sauce, and shrimp are never subbed in for tiger prawns. The papaya salads here aren’t just limited to the “kids’ version” that’s popular at U.S. restaurants, but one in which year-long fermented crabs imbue a salty funkiness. The pad krapow sources Thai basil, and sweet chile sauce is banned from his pad Thai.

There’s more to the chef’s as-it-is-in-Thailand repertoire: whole fried fish served with lettuce wraps, noodles, mint, and tamarind dipping sauce; a shellfish-loaded hor mok served inside a coconut. Another bestseller is the Thai-Chinese fish maw soup. Chaiyakhet buys dried fish maw that he rehydrates; stews until tender with soy sauce, sugar, and tapioca starch; and serves it with a light black vinegar and chile powder. That whole fish dish is topped with limes, red chile peppers, raw garlic, heaps of cilantro, and Chinese celery. For the buoyant shrimp cake, Chaiyakhet mashes jumbo shrimp, batters it, and fries it golden crispy.

Here’s where his make-it-work-by-any-means-necessary attitude comes in. Kunchadechchirawat offers the entire menu with both a la carte and AYCE options, but the AYCE math — an average of $55 per person (depending on seafood add-ons) with an additional food waste penalty that’s equivalent to the full a la carte price of the unfinished dish. In short, it only works for bottomless appetites. There’s also sushi for those looking to stray beyond Thai fare (and it’s also popular in Thailand).

As far as why he has opened the restaurant, Kunchadechchirawat says, “If I have a chance to try something new, I do it. I want to know how it is: If it tastes good, it is the profit of my life. And I want to make that happen for everyone who comes to Na Rath.”

Na Rath is open 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

A bowl of seafood stew in a silver bowl.

Tom Yum Kung at Na Rath.
Na Rath.

Caroline Shin is a Queens-raised food journalist and founder of the Cooking with Granny YouTube and workshop series spotlighting immigrant grandmothers. Follow her on Instagram @CookingWGranny.

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