I love my takeout rotation in New York. It usually consists of chicken wings and pork fried rice from Golden Wok; pasta from Osteria Morini; Philly cheesesteaks from Shorty’s; and pizza from Joe’s. And then there’s the place that I always find myself returning to: Fish Cheeks, a Thai restaurant like no other in the city.
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I stumbled upon Fish Cheeks pretty much when it first opened in 2016. It was lunchtime and didn’t know what to expect, but as soon as the food started coming out, I knew it was different.
I still vividly remember the parade of dishes, but the centerpiece of the meal was a whole, deboned fish, gently steaming and simmering in a shallow, bubbling pot. The broth was heavy on lime and fish sauce, with plenty of mint and chiles floating on top. Concentrated flavors. Aromatic. Delicious. There was no holding back on the fish sauce, or the heat levels; it gave me flashbacks of traveling through Thailand. There was a clear confidence of the cooking and the authenticity of the vision.
Fish Cheeks is run by Thai immigrants — Ohm Suansilphong, Chat Suansilphong, and Jenn Saesue. They opened their restaurant on Bond Street in NoHo with the goal of sharing their vision of uncompromising contemporary Thai food, especially seafood. It’s a personal restaurant, one that celebrates the owners’ backgrounds and upbringings.
And what now resonates more strongly than ever is the communal aspect of their dishes. The kinds of dishes that are meant to share among friends, the kinds of dishes that underscore the beauty of communal dining. That’s what brought me back in those early days. As exciting as the food was — and still is — those kind of dishes make it easy to talk about the table. It lends itself to conversation
Restaurants fuel the economy, and they are gathering places. They are where we celebrate, and where we learn together about culture. And when restaurants succeed with a personal, uncompromising vision, like Fish Cheeks has, that success serves as inspiration to others to do something the right way.
I’ve gone back to Fish Cheeks regularly since the pandemic hit. That fish hot pot isn’t the most conducive to takeout, so my order usually consists of the southern-style coconut crab curry, the crab fried rice, the zabb wings, and the grilled pork cheeks.