585 Medford Ave., Suite 3, North Patchogue
AMBIENCE: Cozy, busy, no frills
ESSENTIALS: Open Tuesday to Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. and 4:30 to 10 p.m., Saturday and Sunday noon to 10 p.m., closed Monday. Visa and MasterCard accepted; wheelchair accessible, but the dining room is very tight
Sixteen diners fit snugly into Rice Thai, a little storefront bursting with big flavors.
Keith Wong and Winnie Teng, his mother, deliver some of the year’s best Thai cooking in a space that can be modestly described as minimalist, situated north of downtown Patchogue on Route 112 in a nondescript strip mall.
There are few distractions from what’s on your plate. It’s almost as if the restaurant was designed that way.
A Thailand travel guide is near the entrance to the perpetual-motion kitchen. A collage of Thai scenes decorates one wall. A sign advises: “Eat well.” The lone window looks onto the compact parking lot. Tom’s Hobby Shop is next door.
But the kitchen immediately will get your attention, with aromatic, enticing, often transporting tastes of Thailand and Malaysia, from where the family came to the United States. Wong and Teng previously operated restaurants in Middlebury, Vermont — one Chinese and one Thai.
Their new eatery specializes in what’s billed as “Thai comfort home cooking.”
So, dip into tom ka, a lush, soothing soup rife with coconut, lemongrass and tender chicken. Sample tom yum, the deftly done classic with a jolt of Thai chilies. Try khao soi, a bright and satisfying combo of chicken and egg noodles, coconut milk and curry spices.
Chef Wong sends out a delectable Siam roti, a delicate Malaysian pancake served with chicken massaman curry; and a tasty Siam shrimp roll, with rice-paper-wrapped shellfish and plum dipping sauce. His respectable fried chicken dumplings arrive with sweet soy sauce.
Chicken satay is on the dry side but almost rescued by fine peanut sauce. Refresh yourself with som tom Thai, an electric green papaya salad ignited by chilies and accented with garlic, lime juice and ground peanuts. It’s equaled by the lively, grilled beef salad with mint, roasted rice and more in a chili-lime dressing. Wong carefully calibrates the heat on request, with levels of spicy, extra spicy and, for the devotees of the incendiary, Thai spicy.
Cool off with pad thai, the stir-fried union of rice noodles with egg, scallion, roasted peanuts and bean sprouts. Pad kee mao, or sauteed flat rice noodles spurred with fresh basil and chilies, delivers a bit more spicing. The noodles are especially good with chicken, shrimp or tofu. Select the Thai fried rice, with tomato and egg; or the juiced-up version, heated with garlic, basil and chilies.
Wong excels with a quintet of curries, led by the fragrant massaman, which brings together coconut sauce, roasted peanuts, cinnamon and cumin. It’s best with chicken. Panang curry here means coconut milk and kaffir lime, and a partner for either chicken or shrimp. The red, green and yellow curries all pair neatly with chicken, shrimp or squid.
Vegetarians may focus on sauteed spicy eggplant, basil tofu and tofu with cashews. Rice Thai offers vegetarian “duck’’ as well as gluten-free and vegan sauces. Fried tofu is boosted by peanut and sweet chili sauces.
With many dishes here, you’ll invariably ask for a side of peanut sauce, coconut rice or jasmine rice. They include the marinated and fried chicken wings and the fried calamari.
A crisp, fried banana with honey and sesame seeds, and sticky rice with coconut custard head the desserts; Thai iced tea, the beverages.
Driving along Route 112, it’s easy to miss Rice Thai.