Long time EWZ readers, both of them, may remember Pam Real Thai, a Hell’s Kitchen staple for many years. I spent countless hours at Pam slurping on spicy Kee Mao Noodles and the legendary oxtail soup while staring at the slightly crooked portrait of Pam on the wall. The room, with its wooden furniture was comfortable but not particularly attractive. And there was often a slightly unpleasant smell to match the atmosphere. The menus were decades old, with items crossed out with a pen or stickers. But boy, was the food good.
On my Hell’s Kitchen tours, in front of another legend, Gazala’s Place, I used to talk about one of the underlying rules of eating in the area, especially when it comes to Thai food. The worse the place looked, the better the food, and the more local the clientele. A place featuring attractive chandeliers and wall to wall mirrors, usually also features sweet curries of every rainbow color and mostly tourists. But with the growing young demographic of the area, there’s just so much you can rely on locals. Both Gazala’s and Pam are no more.
Pam’s replacement LumLum (sort of means “yum” – and yes LumLum – Yum Yum is taken) is a stunner in comparison to Pam’s. And its doing its best to debunk the looks theory. While its different in every way, the food, from what I tried so far, is top notch. Instead of the empty room of Pam’s (mainly at lunch time), and the ability to eavesdrop on Broadway executives, its now a packed house of hungry young FOMOs. Which also means forget about lingering here. Expect to finish within an hour, with drooling vultures waiting by the door at peak times.
But its all worth the effort. To open a Thai place in Hell’s Kitchen requires some major Chutzpah. While I still have a soft spot for Pure Thai Cookhouse nearby, I find LumLum the most interesting Thai in Hell’s Kitchen today, and a safer recommendation. Even though I required a second visit to reach this conclusion. LumLum did not only transform the venue, but the neighborhood back to a Thai powerhouse. Here’s the food rundown…
Moo Krob – Fried pork belly. Nice and crispy. Got a bit boring midway, but possibly because I had it solo.
Kra Prow – Thai Basil with minced chicken (choice pf protein). Serviceable classic. A tad on the sweet side which was surprising considering it got two peppers. Their pepper indication should be taken with a grain of pepper.
Steamed fish – Whole fish, whether steamed or fried is one of the specialties here, and this one did not disappoint. Expertly cooked Branzino, with a particularly complementary cilantro lime broth.
Crying Tiger – Possibly the signature here. The steak tasted better than the picture shows, but it was the garlic rice with the crispiness from the shallots, and funky sweetness from the sauce that make this work so well.
Pad Ki Mao – My kryptonite when it comes to Thai food. Not “Thai Spicy” as the chart says, but as spicy as Ki Mao should be, and as flavorful as they come. Although next time I would opt for the seafood option over chicken. You get a choice of Tofu, chicken, beef, mixed seafood, or crab. Leave the crab for…
Nam Ya Poo (turmeric coconut curry with crab and rice noodles on the side) – This was oddly closer to the advertised “Thai Spicy” and had pretty good depth. Dipping the rice noodles in that bowl was food magic. Probably favorite dish here.
Squid ink soup – Didn’t have it but worth noting as its another specialty here. I was mainly concentrating on shareable dishes
Coconut Sticky Rice with Mango – Good for what it is. Not quite as polished as the version at Pure Thai Cookhouse
While the complete makeover made the place much more attractive in and out, LumLum popularity makes it a tad less comfortable than it’s predecessor. The kitchen is like a machine, programmed to get all your dishes out in a timely manner, so you might get them all at the same time. And the table arrangements make for a tight fit. On my second visit, when one of us needed to go to the restroom, we had to draw a plan. Who moves where, and how to avoid bumping into other diners. And in addition to not quite being “Thai Spicy”, its also not quite as “Thai Friendly” as one can expect. But the last time I checked, this is a blog about food. Go!
404 W 49th St (Hell’s Kitchen)
Recommended Dishes: Steamed Fish, Crying Tiger, Pad Ki Mao, Nam Ya Poo