Thai Restaurant Baht Opens in Jackson Heights, NYC – Grub Street

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Khao pad poo at Baht.
Photo: Nashish Scott

Khao pad poo, or crab fried rice, is one of those dishes that seems to be on almost every Thai menu. Too often, it’s an afterthought and even if the word “crab” does a lot to sell the dish, the result — poorly cooked rice, very little actual seafood — doesn’t live up to its promise. That’s not the case at Baht, a new Jackson Heights restaurant where the khao pad poo is the star of the menu.

Here, you’ll continue to find more and more crab as you dig through the rice, while the egg inside is cooked gently, so it’s still soft and fluffy. What really sets it apart is a condiment that the menu calls “Thai chimichurri,” a small bowl of fish sauce, oil, and vinegar with cilantro, garlic, scallion, and bird’s-eye chile. It’s a riff on prik nam pla, the condiment often served with the dish, and its savory vinegar tang really makes the rice pop. It’s hard not to get greedy with the stuff.

“That’s my favorite dish. I love fried rice. I’m Chinese, man,” says Quin Chen, a co-owner of the restaurant. “At every Thai restaurant we’ve been to, when you eat it, the crab kind of gets lost in the fried rice. You really don’t taste it. We didn’t want to be stingy with it.”

In April, Chen opened the restaurant with his wife, Tharinya Phinphattrakun, and sister-in-law, Sawanya, who is running the kitchen. The sisters’ parents previously ran Arunee, where they had both worked as teenagers and later helped out, in this same space. It wasn’t as well known as Sripraphai or Ayada, but it was among the area’s more popular Thai spots and praised by some as one of the city’s best. (Way back in 2002, New York Underground Gourmet nodded to its excellence and called attention to highlights such as the tom kha gai.)

Last July, Arunee’s lease expired and the elder Phinphattrakuns had decided to retire. “We didn’t want to let go of the business,” Tharinya says. So, they took over, redesigning and lightening it up. They ripped out layers of floor, until they got to the original wood, and went for a more timeless look. “I was really inspired by the old-school Italian bakeries, one of my biggest inspirations was Vesuvio Bakery,” says Chen, who grew up in Bay Ridge. Songs by Kali Uchi played from the speakers on Sunday afternoon, while one of the two TVs at the bar was tuned to a Mets game. They’ve also stocked a full bar, with cocktails that Chen says he developed with a friend who has worked at Death & Co., like the Olieng (“a Thai espresso martini”) and the Barrio Chino (a margarita with spicy Thai bitters).

Along with the crab fried rice, the menu features some other familiar dishes like Pla Tod, or a whole fried red snapper with mango salad; and Crying Tiger, the grilled-steak salad. Other choices feature little twists, like the avocado aïoli that’s served with the fish fritters and curry chicken empanadas. Larb wings, meanwhile, smack of fish sauce and are seasoned with toasted rice powder.

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