Submitted By Crystal Chan-Long, August 27, 2017-3:12 pm
One of the fabulous things about the Big Apple is that you can find an abundance of great eateries in every neighborhood—and Washington Heights, a bustling, diverse enclave in the northern part of Manhattan, is no exception. This area, in fact, has quite a few hidden gems, and discovering them is part of the fun of exploring the locale’s vibrant streets.
Here’s the other part of the fun: dining at them. And one that seems especially secluded, Tung Thong 181—a quaint, cozy Thai restaurant on the corner of 181st Street and Pinehurst Avenue—has quite a few unexpected pleasures to offer.
Not including its exterior facade, of course. Its bright orange sign, nearly buried in the subterranean streetscape, is modest and not something you’d necessarily recognize as the harbinger of terrific fare to come. Once you walk down the steps and enter the establishment, however, you’ll find a welcoming restaurant with bold Thai flavors in store. Casual and comfortable, the spot accentuates the feeling of informality with a modern-looking white grid partition separating the dining area and the sizable bar. Meanwhile, brick walls, along with a smattering of plants and ornaments, fill out the warm, homey vibe, which is complemented by plain, dark wooden tables and chairs. Yes, it’s a neighborhood restaurant through and through.
Which often means that the food and service provide a not-insignificant level of naches, and Tung Thong 181 certainly delivers on that level. Take the attentive servers, for example, who may quickly supply water glasses, plus a menu and a drink list. The latter is particularly welcome, as it showcases photos of what you might be imbibing—among which are a number of tropical cocktails, including the restaurant’s namesake concoction, the Tung Thong Breeze, a crisp, refreshing mix of rum and juice. Down that with the Tung Thong appetizer, and you’re in a good place; the crispy, golden fritters, filled with a juxtaposition of shrimp and ground chicken, work well with the accompanying sweet chili sauce.
Entrees feature a selection of traditional, inexpensive curries, meats, salads and rice dishes … all of which are more than decent. But one special item takes the cake: Drunken Noodle, a sauteed preparation augmenting the pasta with eggs, tomatoes, bok choy other veggies, along with tinges of basil and chili. Combined with chicken, Tung Thong 181’s version of this classic dish is quite good: The noodles are perfectly chewy and flavorful, and the ingredients are well cooked and seasoned. Run with that, and you’re all set.
Until your next meal, that is. Such is the life of the hidden-restaurant discoverer. And really, who’s complaining?
We here at Critical Mousse aren’t … and certainly not with food like this.
Photos by Crystal Chan-Long