The one unfortunate side-effect of eating at SriPraPhai regularly (well, one of two, if you count prodigious after-burn... which I don't) is that it has made me rather a snob when it comes to all other Thai restaurants (Me?? A snob???? Okay, all together now: show me your shocked faces... excellent!) That is, until this evening. Chao Thai is damn close to the same league as SriPraPhai. They even do some things better.
If the two salad dishes we had are a reliable indicator, and I believe they are, the salad appetizers are especially good. Both the beef larb and the squid salad fairly screamed "freshness"--the flavors of the chilis and the lime juice retained all of their character while blending with each other perfectly, garnished with some impeccably fresh mint leaves. An especially nice touch was that the beef used in the larb appeared to have been chopped by hand rather than simply having been put through a grinder: most places, the beef in this dish has the same consistency as hamburger.
The crispy pork in basil sauce was stunning: cubes of pork belly (which, for the uninitiated, is bacon before it is cured) fried until just crisp enough, yet tender beneath the surface, stir-fried in a sauce of chili, garlic and basil. Sweet sausage fried rice--rice fried with bits of egg, scallion and slices of sausage much like Chinese sausage but more refined--was perfectly executed, delicate and surprisingly subtle. I've made my feelings about pad thai known elsewhere on this blog, but even that was worth eating.
For you hot pepper mavens: spicy here really does mean spicy, and they will take you quite seriously if you ask for it. And once the helpful and chatty young waitress realized just how thoroughly we were enjoying the food, she was full of suggestions for things to try on subsequent visits, all of which I intend to, and soon.
85-03 Whitney Ave., Elmhurst 11373
old menu--prices have gone up a couple of dollars for most dishes
(G, R, or V train to Elmhurst Ave., south on Broadway a block or two, then left on Whitney)