Of the overwhelming variety of top-notch, low cost eateries in the East Village, Zabb Elee was my first choice of the top ten in the Village Voice roundup. Though a huge fan of Thai food, I had never heard of regional Isan cuisine. I was curious.
When we walked up to its red awning and peered into the neo-colonial interior a half flight down, it didn't look like there was a free table. We were wrong.
Finally sitting and baffled before the endless list of options, I asked the man beside us what he had ordered (there are advantages to being seated like sardines apparently). Though he wasn't loquacious, his dinner date urged us to get the crispy pork and any of the larb (minced meat) dishes.
We obliged, ordering the crispy pork with Thai eggplant and wild ginger and the duck larb. The larb was so spicy it took some ice to heal the burn on my companion's tongue, but I could still taste its goodness through the heat. The crispy pork shone in comparison. Hot enough to kick but not hurt, a little sweet, and crispier than any I've ever had. The eggplant accompaniment rounded out the plate nicely.
A great find for a first night in the big city.