"Dinner at 5:45pm?! And we need reservations???". I typed the quizzical reply to my friend's email. If only she could see my eyebrows shooting skyward. Before pressing the Send button, I added sarcastically, "This isn't Nobu or Le Bernardin, right?". No, but what THIS was, as I discovered, is one of the most authentic Thai restos in the city - Pam Real Thai (is this bad grammar or what?!) on W49th St. & 9th Ave. In contrast to most places that water down the intensity of their dishes to suit the American palate, it's a no-holds-barred smorgasbord at Pam Real Thai. Lest you make the mistake of misjudging the hotness of each dish, the number of tiny chili peppers indicate the likelihood that you'll be frantically reaching for the glass of water.
We started of with the excellent som tum (green papaya salad), a mixture of shredded green papaya with garlic, chili, tomato, lime juice, and peanuts. The sharp, tangy lime juice contrasted with zesty chili produced an indescribably delectable taste. Another appetizer we tried was the hae guen, crab meat wrapped in bean curd sheets and served with sweet chili sauce (notice a recurring theme here?). This one tasted ok, if lacking in flavor. On the whole, somewhat forgettable.
The main courses were all excellent and ultra-spicy. In addition to the obligatory pad thai, our group had the crispy duck in chili sauce ("recommended by Village Voice", an opinion I concur with) and staring at you from the picture, a whole deep fried red snapper in basil sauce, bell pepper and chili. As you can imagine, by this time we wiping off our sweaty foreheads, loosening our collars, and heavily sniffling. All that HEAT!!! For good measure, I ordered sweet Thai iced coffee to eliminate any chance of my tongue bursting into flames.
And wouldn't you know it? By 6:30pm all the tables at Pam Real Thai were occupied, and by 7pm a waiting line had formed. Simply amazing, given the resto's spartan (ok, cafeteria-like) ambiance and non-acceptance of credit cards. Happily, great food trumps bad decor, so much so that they have a newly-opened branch two blocks over on 47th St. called Pam Real Thai Encore. This location is a more hip, dimly-lit version offering the same food at the same reasonable prices. Make sure to visit them before it becomes as widely-known as the original.