Truth or Somtum Der? - NY, NY

This past summer, I lived in one of the last shanty towns of NYC - Alphabet City. A friend’s inebriated insight described the area’s avenues as:

  • A for Alright
  • B for Bad
  • C for Crazy
  • D for Dead

One place on Avenue A happens to be more than just alright (1). Somtum Der (2) is a hidden gem of tantalizing Thai cuisine. The restaurant is the NYC outpost of Bangkok's most famous Isan (Northeastern Thai) restaurant. It is also a former Michelin star holder, and one of a handful (besides Cafe China & Tim Ho Wan) which you leave with both a full stomach and full wallet. Isan transplant Chef Korn combines all the flavors of Northeastern Thai food that attracts locals and Thai expats alike. At Somtum Der you can get a filling, authentic meal plus a Tiger beer for under $25.  

Somtum Der wasn’t my find, and I must give credit where credit is due. My Italian future trauma surgeon friend née former roommate, Paolo, steered me through the bamboo faced exterior (see my NYC guide to restaurants, bars, and caffeine for more joint recs). In this mecca of flavors, the experience isn’t limited to one sense. You right away notice the minimalist wood and natural material decor. The spot has an open design, so you can watch the hustle & bustle in the kitchen while listening to their selection of alternative Thai tunes (3). The place is always packed, so a reservation is suggested. However if you get lucky, you can snag a couple stools near the window. From this perch your dining experience amalgamates Thai culture with NYC street views.

I ripped this one from the Somtum Der website since it was too dark when we visited.

I ripped this one from the Somtum Der website since it was too dark when we visited.

 

This particular adventure starts with a visit from Derrick (my cousin) and Cameron (high school friend). We have several stories from the weekend (4), but most aren’t safe for the internet. We’ll limit this post to our evaluation of Somtum Der’s delicacies.

Our avenue C apartment had a fire escape accessible rooftop.

Our avenue C apartment had a fire escape accessible rooftop.

Everything we tried was delicious! The dishes hit you with mouth watering complexity through combinations of Thai chillis, lime juice, fish sauce, fresh meats, and crisp veggies. The signature dish is a somtum (papaya salad). I highly recommend the Tum Khai Kem, which is a spicy version with salted egg, crunchy soybean sprouts, and sliced lime. Here is the rest of the line up from the evening:

  • Nue Dad Dieo is a deep-fried & sun-dried beef appetizer. It is salty, savory, and a bit tangy. It’s beef jerky texture gives a Chewy feel, but it comes with a Han Solo kick. The crispy yet tender black pepper bites mix well with the sweet and hot chilli sauce.

  • The Chef’s Signature Wok-fried Seafood Suki is excellent! The noodles are crunchy and succulent. The calamari and schrimp’s slight caramelization pairs with the fish sauce zang (5). I recommend washing this one down with a Tiger Beer, a heady lager from Singapore (6).

  • We snagged the chicken version of Pad Thai Mun Poo. These red tinted noodles are sweet and fantastic! They are soft and melt in your mouth, and the tamarind isn’t too overpowering.

  • Finally we close with the Khao Pad Kaprao Moo, a pork friend rice topped with basil. It has a rich and deep taste due to the fatty pork bits, but it lacked a bit of Isan hutzpah (7).

(Click on the above photo gallery to view in the order of description)

I highly recommend over ordering and sharing! The best plan of attack may be starting with a potpourri of appetizers and closing with more noodle than rice dishes. If you’re feeling extra adventurous test out the Tom Pla Too + Kao Mun. It’s a Thai Mackerel papaya salad I tried on a previous visit. All in all Somtum Der is a 10/10 and a must visit if you’re in the East Village/Alphabet City.


Citations:

  1. If you ever end up on Avenue A late at night, stop by my favorite dive bar, Doc Holliday’s, for some duck hunting and two for one cervezas.

  2. The name of the restaurant is derived from the famous Isan dish somtum (papaya salad) and der (a Isan suffix which indicates a friendly greeting)

  3. Somtum Der plays tunes from Zudrangma Records whose artists range from traditional to funky!

  4. Somehow we ended up pre-gaming at a billionaire's penthouse apartment…

  5. Charlie Hoxie coined the shrimp synonym (schrimp) in a Fort Greene backyard brunch.

  6. I swear I’m not sponsored by Tiger Beer, I just like the slogan “It’s Time for a Tiger”.

  7. My yiddish is pretty good after five different Jewish roommates.