The different day, I got here near cancelling my plans for lunch open air at Thai Diner, in Nolita, on account of the forecast. That would have been a mistake, not as a result of it didn’t rain—it poured—however as a result of the climate really enhanced the expertise. With two pals, I sat on a tidy sidewalk platform, warmed by a warmth lamp and dryly ensconced beneath a charmingly retro awning emblazoned with attractive phrases and pictures: “steak”; “coffee”; a stack of pancakes with a pat of butter.
We felt hearty and resilient, and, better of all, we had the patio to ourselves, which proved particularly fortunate after we ordered sufficient meals to spill over onto one other desk. Silky kabocha-squash pink curry, with a flaky sheet of roti for dipping, fought for area with lamb laab and sticky rice; the broad, sweet-slicked noodles of a phat see eiw (a.okay.a. pad see ew), tangled with Chinese broccoli and tender quick rib; and a tureen of creamy khao soi, its chicken-leg centerpiece topped with a nest of crispy noodles. Droplets pattered closely on the steel overhead, as soothing as a rain stick.
When I discussed the sound impact to Ann Redding, who, along with her husband, Matt Danzer, is Thai Diner’s co-chef and co-owner, she laughed. “Like being in Southeast Asia,” she mentioned. The patio, alongside Kenmare Street, was at all times a part of the plan for the nook restaurant, which opened in February, 2020. The enclosed outdoor-dining construction they constructed on Mott Street, designed by Redding’s sister, May, was not. Outfitted with cubicles, thatched-bamboo partitions, huge easy-to-open home windows, and followers, it, too, is thrillingly transportive, reminiscent not solely of Thailand but in addition of mid-century American train-car diners, which developed from travelling lunch wagons.
The vibe might whet the urge for food particularly for the menu’s excellent, compact burger, served on a sesame bun with shredded iceberg and pickles—add crinkle-cut fries or don’t. I didn’t, as a result of I’d ordered the Thai disco fries, a pile smothered in massaman curry, pink onions, peanuts, and coconut cream. Some of the dishes right here have been, fortunately, transplanted from Uncle Boons, the couple’s first, extra strictly Thai restaurant, which they had been compelled to shut final August, after failed negotiations with their landlord, and from its spinoff, Uncle Boons Sister, which is at present supply solely. I used to be particularly glad to be reunited with the superlative phat Thai (a.okay.a. pad Thai), and with a cut-crystal coupe of finely minced peanuts, dried shrimp, uncooked onion, and ginger, to be wrapped with toasted-coconut sauce in peppery betel leaves.
Items such because the disco fries embody the extra freewheeling, experimental theme that Redding and Danzer initially deliberate for, partly impressed by the best way that Redding’s mom, who emigrated from Thailand, tailored her cooking to the U.S. The breakfast menu contains Thai-tea-flavored babka French toast, and spectacular egg sandwiches made with roti snugly folded round a smooth scramble, American cheese, Thai basil, and both sai oua—a Northern Thai-style curry-seasoned pork sausage—or avocado and bok choy.
A cynic would possibly argue that Thai Diner shouldn’t be really a diner, a class normally related to a neutered kind of universality. But the restaurant proves that broad lodging needn’t come on the expense of shock; it has one thing for everybody, particularly when you don’t underestimate anybody. Just earlier than the pandemic started, Redding was delighted to see that the opening crowd included building staff, cops, and native seniors, eating solo at a counter alongside a wall of home windows opening onto the road.
Though Thai Diner at present provides limited-capacity indoor eating, that counter, for now, has been transformed to maintain a rise in takeout, one other artwork they’ve managed to grasp. Stuffed by the top of my wet lunch, I opted for dessert to go, assuming that one thing known as “monster cake”—Thai-coffee-flavored, that day—would journey properly. And how: the very first thing I did after I opened the cardboard field at residence was giggle. Adorning the cartoonishly shaggy frosting was a pair of fondant googly eyes, with cashews for eyebrows. (Dishes $8-$25.) ♦