Chances are, you’ve been told that the best Thai restaurants in New York can only be found in Elmhurst, Queens. Perhaps, however, you haven’t heard yet of Soothr? Tucked along the quieter strip of 13th Street in the East Village, Soothr (which is the Thai word for “recipe” and is pronounced “sood”) seems tame from the outside. Until you step inside.
Neon-lit, narrow, and boisterous, Soothr is the kind of place where the cool kids crowd is very much eclipsed by the genuinely hospitable and predominantly Thai staff. More than anything though, Soothr is blissfully surprising in its array of Thai specialties not often seen here in New York, like koong karee, a dish that’s famous in Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown.
“Most Thai places in New York, they cater to everyone,” says co-owner Chidensee Watthanawongwat. As you’ve most likely guessed, that’s not so much the case here.
Soothr started as a noodle shop built on family recipes that had been passed down to all three owners — Watthanawongwat hails from Udon Thani in northeast Thailand, while co-owners Kittiya Mokkarat and Supatta Banklouy both grew up in Sukhothai, Thailand’s former capital city — and it quickly grew to incorporate the types of dishes “that Thai people [here in New York] would miss eating in Thailand,” says Watthanawongwat.
There are noodle soups rich in pork blood, curries that are lessons in layering spices, and regional tom yum variations you’d be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Here, Watthanawongwat dives into five dishes that get to the heart of Soothr’s electrifying Thai menu.
1. Sukhothai Tom Yum Noodle Soup
Sour and spicy broth, thin rice noodles, pork, fish cake, dried shrimp, ground peanuts, soft-boiled egg, greens
“This is probably the starting point of the whole menu, the whole restaurant. The other two partners are from a province in Thailand called Sukhothai, it was the former capital of Thailand. In that city, they have a very unique way of making tom yum noodle soup. So, we came together and had an idea of opening up a noodle shop with this noodle soup. It’s actually my favorite, I eat it all the time.
In Thailand, there are varieties of tom yum noodle soup. The Bangkok [style] varies; you might’ve had the creamy tom yum noodles with seafood. But in Sukhothai, they actually have a unique way of putting it together. This one consists of meatballs — my family actually has a meatball business in Thailand, and I learned how to make meatballs from them — and we make them here along with roasted pork and ground pork, and the broth is clear.”
2. Nam-Tok Moo
Spicy and savory pork blood soup with thin rice noodles, sliced pork, homemade meatball, bean sprout, morning glory, basil
“This is also a noodle soup, and the main ingredient is pork blood. It sounds unusual in a way, but it’s really, really good. It’s really savory. When people hear about it, they’re kind of like, ‘Oh …,’ but it’s actually not very bloody. It gives really good texture to the soup. Every Thai person loves this dish. Philip Lim loves this noodle dish. He comes in and always orders that.
There’s another noodle soup that’s similar: boat noodles. It’s just the amount of blood that they put in the soup [that varies]: nam-tok moo would have more; the boat noodle soup would have less. The noodle dish has a little bit of spiciness to it.”
3. Koong Karee
Sautéed shrimp in creamy egg curry sauce, red pepper, scallions, onion, celery
“For our menu, we wanted to offer a different approach, not just regular Thai food. If you ask any Thai person, any Bangkokians, where to get the best food in Bangkok, nine out of 10 would say Chinatown.
This is our signature and most popular dish. It’s sautéed shrimp in egg curry sauce. It’s not an everyday kind of dish. You have to go to a certain area, and the best koong karee in Thailand is in Bangkok’s Chinatown.
The Chinese [influence] would be from the cooking style, the wok, the technique, and how they cook the shrimp. But it also has curry powder, which is influenced by Indian cuisine. Thai cuisine is inspired by Indian spices. In Bangkok, there’s a mix of Chinese [immigrants] and a small Indian community. That’s how they created this dish, with a bit of different influences here and there. Thai cuisine is very adaptive.”
4. Pla Lui Suan
Fried whole branzino with chile, lime dressing, gooseberries, Thai herb garden toppings
“This is a new dish. It’s a fried branzino with a bunch of herb toppings, like a little herb garden on a fish with lime dressing. Thai people love things that are very flavorful, sour and spicy. This dish has about six herbs, cut right on top of the fish. There’s chile, galangal, mint, shallot, culantro, and also a bit of gooseberries. It gives you something refreshing for spring and summer. It’s from central Thailand.”
5. Si-Krong Pad Ped
Wok-tossed spicy braised spareribs sprinkled with makrut leaves, cucumber, long beans
“The dish would be our si-krong pad ped: braised spareribs tossed in a chile herb paste. It’s a Southern-style chile paste, made from 11 or 12 ingredients. It’s very hard to make, and when the kitchen makes it, it smells like herbs and chile everywhere. It’s probably the second bestseller after koong karee, and [guests] always order it in combo. It takes hours to make; three hours just to braise the ribs. It’s very time-consuming. The inspiration for the dish is from southern Thai cuisine.”
Soothr is open seven days a week for lunch from noon to 4 p.m. and for dinner Sundays through Thursdays from 5 to 10:30 p.m., and until 11:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.