Peak Thai is hidden on a side street — East 49th — and easy to miss. It may never win a Michelin star. But there’s a reason lines form around noon: you can count on this quiet, efficiently run restaurant for solid cooking and pocket-friendly prices. These days, that’s no small thing.
It is minutes by foot from United Nations headquarters, where it clearly has a following. At any given time, it seems that foreign languages are being spoken at about half the tables, and overheard conversations tend to focus on NGO gossip and UN travel rules. (They could dampen one’s appetite.)
The draw at midday is a nice array of prix-fix entree-and-appetizer options. Dishes are well prepared and attractively presented, the portions are well sized — not too big and not too small — and the service is both attentive and respectful.
While the restaurant seats only about 40 to 50 people, its standard menu is lengthy and packed with ambitious dishes, most of them falling in the $12 to $19 range. But Peak Thai’s sweet spot is its lunch specials, which go for $10 to $12 and are served weekdays from 11:15 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Each special is preceded by a crispy-fried spring roll and a salad of mixed greens with shredded cherry tomato, onion and carrot.
If you’re not getting a rice or noodle dish, the main course is accompanied by jasmine rice, but I recommend the sticky rice, which costs an extra buck and makes your meal more special.
My favorite lunch was the khao soi, a thick, creamy curry broth with the perfect level of heat. The soup is threaded with shreds of greens, chicken and red onion and topped by a crown of fried noodles. A second nest of slurpy-soft egg noodles is buried in the bowl.
The pad prik khing is a generous heap of green beans and slivers of chewy beef in a tangy chili paste. The pad c-ew featured broad hand-cut flat rice noodles in a rich brown soy-based sauce with shreds of duck meat and crunchy Chinese broccoli. The noodles, similar to Chinese chow fun, were stir-fried just to the point of charring, giving them that characteristic “wok burn” flavor.
A shrimp tom yum soup was afloat with rice noodles, whole white mushrooms and four big shrimp in a spicy broth fragrant with lemongrass and lime. Please remember that the chunks of woody lemongrass are there for flavor alone and not to be chewed.
Peak Thai beverages include mango, lychee, coconut and pineapple juices as well as Thai iced coffee and tea ($3-$4). There’s also beer, wine and sake by the glass ($6-$7).
I don’t usually do dessert in Asian restaurants but could not resist the yummy mango with sticky rice ($6.95), an ultrarich plate of sticky rice in an unctuous coconut sauce, accompanied by slices of fresh ripe mango.
The tables are tight-knit, the decor tastefully bland and the background music — from the Kate Perry School of Pop — a bit too loud, but this spot merits a detour. Aim to arrive before noon or after 1:30 p.m. to increase the odds of quickly scoring a seat.
Peak Thai is open Monday through Thursday from 11:15 a.m. to 10:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday, from 11:15 a.m. to 10:45 p.m., and Sundays from noon to 9:30 p.m. It is located at 301 E. 49th Street between First and Second Avenues. (646) 454-1333.
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Irwin Arieff is a veteran writer and editor with extensive experience writing about international diplomacy and food, cooking and restaurants. Before leaving daily journalism in 2007, he was a Reuters correspondent for 23 years, serving in senior posts in Washington, Paris and New York as well as at the United Nations (where he covered five of the 10 years that Sergey Lavrov spent in New York as Russia’s senior UN ambassador). Arieff also wrote restaurant reviews for The Washington Post and Washington City Paper in the 1980s and 1990s with his wife, Deborah Baldwin.