For me, the biggest challenge when it comes to dining alone is a restaurant that serves family-style dishes. Sometimes, I’ll happily over-order to be able to try a range of things. This often happens on holiday when Vacation Rhianna takes over and cares little about cost or waste. Real Rhianna feels guilty about over-ordering both because I keep to a budget and don’t like reheated leftovers (yet another story for another time). Thai and Indian food most often lose out. Stubborn, I don’t want to go for Indian and only order one dish, too much rice, and naan. I want to share multiple veg and non-veg dishes, appetizers, and carbs. So, I patiently wait until dining partners can be arranged. I’m not yet ready for solo trips to the buffet.
Recent Thai developments, on the other hand, have made waits for such feasts much more tolerable. Both Khao Kang and Eim Khao Mun Kai in Elmhurst, Queens, offer the closest thing to solo-friendly food court dining without, thankfully, the mall food court.
Khao Kang offers multiple dishes from a steam table. Walking in, you’re immediately hit with the strong aroma of fish sauce. I knew we were in for a treat. Each dish can be ordered a la carte, but the standard order is a mixed plate of two or three dishes over steamed rice for $7 or $7.50. An incredible bargain for Thai food. I’ve read that steam table dining is something indeed seen in Thailand and that the dishes at Khao Kang are spiced according to the local Thai community’s palate and not your typical “white people spicy.”
From the dishes I tried, the penang curry with pork had a decent kick, but I did add some spicy fish sauce to my green curry with chicken. My friend G and I both had the mild pumpkin and egg dish and declared it our favourite of the night. It was an unexpected pairing, but it worked perfectly with the creaminess of the squash enhanced by richness from the egg. While we couldn’t wash down our dinner with a Singha, there are a number of non-alcoholic beverages available, including the crowd-pleasing Thai iced tea. Desserts are on offer, too, and we tried a coconut-tapioca pudding and a custard-stuffed pumpkin (the winner).
The best Thai? No, but an awesome option when I’m in need of something cheap, quick, and comforting, and when I want to try a dish I might otherwise have trouble finding.
Eim Khao Mun Kai serves just one dish: khao mun kai or Hainanese chicken rice. A Thai dish with Chinese origins, khao mun kai is poached chicken served over rice that has been cooked in the spiced (exceedingly mild) poaching liquid. It is served with some garlicky ginger sauce, broth, and cucumbers. While many are aware of this dish via a famous food cart in Portland, Oregon, New York has only recently seen chicken rice-only places open up. Eim’s is a small place down the street from Khao Kang, with just a few seats. More are not really necessary as they seem to do swift take-out business for the single menu item.
In terms of looks, the dish doesn’t have a lot going for it. Almost colourless, the dish encourages a taste based more on how others have fallen in love with it rather than your own desire to dig into the plate of beige. Any apathy fades quickly with a few bites. The serving dished up gives you plenty of tender chicken and aromatic rice. The accompanying sauce adds the right amount of spice and depth without overpowering the delicate flavours of the chicken and rice. I like to add extra chilies, garlic, and sweet soy sauce to mine. The cucumbers are used to cut through the spice, and the broth serves practically as a well-paired beverage. While eating in, I’ve always been offered more sauce and broth when it’s noticed that my bowls are empty. While the chicken is the main event, my friend L and I often say how much we could just eat bowls after bowls of the rice. Glistening with fat from the poaching liquid, it is very special rice. Definitely worth a trip out to Queens for.
A set plate for one person is $8.99 and includes a soda. I treat the broth-soaked chunk of daikon at the bottom of my broth as dessert and give more thanks that I can get an easy Thai fix when I’m just doing one-bum dining.