We’re crazy for Thai food: The scent of fish sauce, coconut milk and peanuts mingling in a bowl of rice noodles. It doesn’t get much better. When you’re through with the heat of a spicy duck salad or chile-rich curry, there’s nothing better than a cool, creamy dessert. Apart from gelato and fruit pies, Thai sweets are some of our all-time favorites. Fact. There’s the more commonplace mango-topped sticky rice or coconut custard over black rice. And then there’s the more exotic, like an egg yolk in syrup, preserved bananas, or coconut milk with tapioca-dusted water chestnuts. You can find them not just at Thai restaurants, but grocery stores that carry Southeast Asian products.
Pure Thai Shophouse
764 9th Ave. (between 51st and 52nd)
We love this little Hell’s Kitchen eatery for its spicy chicken with basil, chicken curry puffs and pad see ew with beef (those vermicelli noodles are addictive). But the real reason we frequent this place is for the desserts, though there are only two. Mango with sticky rice is the first and the best rendition we’ve found on the island of Manhattan to date. The glutinous rice is cooked in coconut milk and studded with tapioca pearls, a warm sticky pedestal for the perfectly ripe mango on top. (We’ve never been served overripe or underripe mango here.) The second and most unique is a yam custard wrapped up in a tea leaf. It looks almost like a piece of eel sushi: A layer of tan custard is sprinkled with sesame seeds and draped over coconut sticky rice. The flan-like yam’s intense sweetness is offset by the rice underneath, making a perfect bite. It’s a dessert that lingers in our memories and inspires cravings.
31 E 21st Street (between Park Avenue South and Broadway)
The extensive dessert selection at this Thai fusion spot ranges from classic Thai to nearly traditional French. The Rhong-Tiam slider features beef, Swiss cheese, and aioli mayo on a potato roll, so just imagine how unique the sweets are. There’s steamed sticky rice-wrapped banana and yellow bean jackfruit seeds (krop k’nor), sweet yellow beans dipped in raw egg yolk. Or try one of their homemade ice creams, such as mango or red bean, or the Thai tea crème brulée, condensed milk and tea underneath a layer of crackly burnt sugar. Next time we’re there, we plan on ordering the roti, made with condensed milk and the coconut jello.
Bangkok Center Grocery
104 Mosco Street (between Mott St & Mulberry St)
If you’re up for making a Thai-themed dinner, Bangkok Center Grocery is a terrific starting point. They sell a spectrum of fresh curry pastes, including green, penang, red, and that’s just for starters. The best part about this grocery is how helpful the employees are. Whatever you want to cook, just ask. They’ll walk you through step-by-step (and get you all the ingredients, of course). Don’t stop at savories. Complete the meal with a pre-made sweet or even make your own. Bangkok Grocery carries hard-to-find ingredients and traditional desserts, like durian mooncakes. Don’t forget to try the black sticky rice dessert (served in a bamboo stick!).
64-13 39th Ave. (near 64th Street)
This isn’t just one of our favorite Thai restaurants. This is one of our favorite restaurants in New York period. Everything from the ground pork (larb moo) to the hot & sour soup (som tum) to the arsenal of curries is exceptional and authentic. It’s easy to fill up on savories here, but try to save room for dessert. But if you don’t, no matter. There’s a refrigerator exclusively devoted to chilled, to-go desserts. It’s filled with unusual offerings, like Thai marzipan, coconut milk with tapioca and black beans, and egg yolks in syrup. The benefit of take-home desserts is you can mix & match, too. We’re fond of marrying the durian with coconut sauce with the sticky rice, but you may have your own ideas.
Qi Bangkok Eatery
675 Eighth Ave. (at 43rd Street)
Pichet Ong is one of those restless pastry chefs we can’t help but follow because he’s always popping up with something new and intriguing. His newest venture has landed him in midtown, just shy of Times Square. It’s worth staying for dinner for the grilled charcoal tiger prawns with chu chee curry sauce as well as Ong’s unique and exotic confections. We’re particularly fond of his reinterpretation of mango with sticky rice. Ong layers yuzu crema with sesame, diced mango and a finishing touch of matcha green tea. The custard is subtly flavored with a bright bite of yuzu. Our two to-try next visit are the peanut parfait and coconut milk cake.
60 Thompson Street (between Broome St and Spring St)
For fancy Thai sweets, there’s Kittichai in the Thompson Hotel. The centerpiece of the romantic dining room is a reflecting pool with floating candles. While the cooking is more formal, it mostly stays true to tradition. Though it does take liberties in the dessert section with delicious results. We suggest the jasmine panna cotta with lychee-grape salad — like Italy gone East for the summer There’s also a stellar banana spring rolls alongside burnt honey ice cream.