Must-See Lower East Side
by Chris Wallace, 03/18/2014
Pok Pok Phat Thai. Photo: Evan Sung
Among the Lower East Side's culinary attractions are its many restaurants that put a modern twist on traditional Asian cuisine. Yunnan Kitchen, for example, brings a bounty of Chinese dishes from the Yunnan province to a stylish and contemporary setting on Clinton Street. In a change from the family-style approach at numerous Chinese restaurants, Yunnan Kitchen serves individual (though shareable) plates of locally sourced proteins, such as spiced chicken wings and crispy whole shrimp, alongside adventurous wine and beer lists. There’s also plenty to please carnivores and vegetarians—the Yunnan province of China is known for its mushrooms, and they shine on the restaurant's menu. Andy Ricker's Portland-born Pok Pok franchise has found a home on the Lower East Side as well. Pok Pok Phat Thai proffers noodles that some diners dream about: stir-fried in rendered pork fat and laced with an umami blast of fish sauce and tamarind, Ricker's phat thai, eaten to the tune of a groovy Thai-pop sound track, makes for an experience that's fantasyland good. A block or two away, Thai-Filipino joint Pig and Khao is as playful with its food and drink as it is with its name (khao, which sounds like “cow,” is Thai for “rice”). Go for small-plate snacks like sizzling sisig (that’s pig’s head, by the by) with egg, washed down with a Stinky Peat (a rye cocktail with flowery accents) or Pigroni (no pork involved, from what we know). Fung Tu, closer to the border of Chinatown and the LES, dishes up its own particular takes on steamed buns, whole fish and, more daringly, something that recalls the essence of spaghetti Bolognese (here, dumpling knots and ground pork sauce). Unlike at most Asian spots over in Chinatown, reservations are recommended.