Is Larb Ubol the Best Thai on 9th Ave?
When Fusion 9th went Fukushima after a very short period of time (not like we’re gonna miss their meh-at-best food) it was a near given that a restaurant would come into the space. Nobody really expected such a quick-draw on part of Larb Ubol/Isan Authentic Thai, though – there was maybe about two months tops of vacancy on this 9th Ave frontage. It’s unironic cliche on Midtown Lunch that 9th has tons of Thai places, some that are even good, and some that had the ol’ eyebrow raised. When they opened not a week after our newspost, it was time to match their quickdraw with a quick review. Doubly so because this spot is the creation of Ratchanee Sumpatboon, formerly of Zabb Elee. Does Larb Ubol Thai the knot or is it amongst the dustbin of pad thai history?
Their whiteboard invites you to try REAL authentic Thai food. As opposed to the fakes. Gauntlet status: thrown down. Do any real authentic Thais want to confirm/refute Larb Ubol’s authenticity? In their favor, I haven’t seen many of their menu offerings before. New stuff? Hell yes!
The specials board inside mentioned frog legs. Definitely gotta come back for those.
$19.60 before tip got two lunch specials. Each special comes with a choice of chicken larb, papaya salad, or a soda. You are a loser if you don’t go for either. How many other places offer either, let alone both, as a choice?
My co-worker got green papaya salad…
…and kao moo krob – fried pork over rice ($9)
For me, it’s all about the larb.
It’s also all about the kra prao moo krob – fried pork stir-fried with basil sauce, garlic, and chili – over rice (Also $9).
They also do awesome Thai iced tea.
The green papaya salad has a nice balance of sweet and tart, and the component veggies are wonderful. Whoever sources their tomatoes should be selling to everyone else that sells tomatoes. I don’t know if it’s the type they use or just the mesh between the dressing and the tomato itself, but it tastes damn near heirloom. You can taste the lime juice and fish sauce coming through in every bite of the salad. I would like to just have a bucket of this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner over the next week, please.
I’d had yet to try larb but my first experience was a pleasant one. There’s a lot of citrusy flavor from the lime juice but a nice warm savory feel, and a good hit from the scallion and red onion to balance things out. A sweetness comes through in the end. This is probably one of the better side dish options out there. There was so much juice left at the bottom, though, but thankfully, there was tons of rice in the mains to soak it up. There were nice zings of mint and cilantro in every bite. I literally licked my plate and drank the remaining juice from the container.
All other pork can go home. The kao moo krob (crispy pork over rice, $9) is pork belly, sliced thin, and deep fried. Basically, we’re looking at Thai chicharron until it gets tossed with a really nice sweet chili sauce and sesame seeds. This pork crunches to the tooth and yields to the bite, and the rice is just simple and perfect. It floats the pork around. Oh man, it used to be tough to find proper chicharron around this part of Midtown – I think I’m just gonna order the kao moo krob when the craving hits.
Plus they threw in a bunch of fried lap cheong sausage as well, which is the greatest dry sausage in the world. My co-worker echoed the sentiments – when I went over to her office to ask her opinion, her eyes lit up and it was like we were speaking the same adoring, crispy-pork language.
The kra prao moo krob had the same crispy pork, but mine was stir-fried with enough bird chili to be interestingly warm and spicy but not overwhelm, lots of garlic, and an amazing dark brown sauce with some bias-sliced Chinese broccoli. One of my co-workers had opted to not buy in on lunch today, but upon him tasting my pork, his eyes widened up and he vowed to order from them right then and there.
He came back with kra prao over rice ($8) – stir-fried ground pork, basically the ground-pork counterpart of the above. Just as good.
The stir-fried dishes both soaked up with the rice and was crazy good all together – but it was very clear that they were both mostly rice. I wish they gave you more of the dish, but small price to pay. It’ll still last two meals if you’re a normal eater, what with the larb or papaya salad thrown in as well.
There are at least dessert options – and they had a container full of Trix cereal to top ‘em with. Watch out, neighborhood froyo joints!
The biggest complement I can give Larb Ubol is twofold: I wanted so much to save my kra prao for tomorrow, but I couldn’t stop going back to eat more and more of it. It was that good, excessive proportion of rice to meat aside. With the 9th Ave Thai crunch showing no signs of being less of a thing, I would say that the presence of Larb Ubol and Aura Thai/Zoob Zib means you really do not need any other Thai places in the city, period. Both are worth the trek for good take-out or eat-in, and in my eyes, it’s going to take a lot to dislodge Larb Ubol in terms of value and flavor.
The +s (What the Baba Ram of Mee Krob would say):
- CRISPY AWESOME PORK, HELL YES
- The larb or papaya salad are fantastic new varieties of side dish – and are perfect accompaniments of tartness.
- A varied lunch special menu that’s more than just the basics of Thai? Now THAT is worthy of a surf ninja!
The -s (What Leslie Nielsen playing a villain named Colonel Chi would say):
- Too much rice! At least make it 50:50 rice to food.
Larb Ubol/Isan Authentic Thai Cuisine, 480 9th Ave. (Between 36th and 37th.)