In 2013, Ann Redding and Matt Danzer opened Uncle Boons right off the Bowery, an unabashedly playful Thai restaurant that, in addition to quickly becoming a happening party spot among the Nolita crowd, also served a whole lot of really great food. In 2016 the chef/owner couple earned a Michelin star, which they've kept every year since.
Uncle Boons remains one of the toughest tables in town, with waits routinely stretching to an hour or more, but Redding and Danzer are determined to bring their unique (and traditional) takes on Thai classics to as many people as possible. The too-tiny Uncle Boons Sister, which flipped last week into a "delivery-only" kitchen, was a much-appreciated attempt at exactly that, and now, gloriously, they've given us the relatively spacious, enormously appealing Thai Diner.
As the name declares, Redding and Danzer's new venture has the feel of a diner but, you know, a whole lot more Thai. There's seating for 65, at wooden booths running along Kenmare, at a banquette parallel to Mott, at an angular lunch-counter in the center of things (this also functions as a full bar), and at some squat tables and backless stools in the area by the front door.
The design, which comes with help from Ann's sister May Redding, is busy with bamboo all over the place, including the ceiling, and teak and chrome and glass everywhere else, and unexpected shrines and collections tucked away in corners. There are photographs, retro movie posters, and paintings covering nearly every square inch of the wall. It's an exceptionally enjoyable place to sit with friends and eat.
Most important, the Thai Diner menu is jam-packed with winners, from Breakfast-All-Day delights like Eggs Your Way with taro hash browns and Thai herbal sausage. There's a Fried Chicken sandwich and a straight-up Cheeseburger, but also traditional Thai dishes such as Tom Kha Gai (chicken, coconut milk, galangal, lemongrass), Haw Mok Talay (steamed fish curry), and Som Tom (green papaya salad).
At a complimentary press lunch earlier this week I barely began my personal journey through all of the wonders here, but I can tell you that an excellent place to start is with the Thai Tea Babka French Toast, four slabs of chocolate bread cooked crisp on the outside, soft and fluffy within, with bright orange ribbons of tea running throughout. Pour on the rich and sticky condensed milk butter, and you have a breakfast platter for the ages.
The Nam Tok, a fiery and surprisingly tangy, dish of funky pork jowl, rice powder, and cucumber, served with a mound of sticky rice, is superb. We really liked the Kuaytiew Pet as well, a well-stocked duck noodle soup infused with anise, and the "train style" fried rice, or Khao Phat Rot Fai, with garlic and Thai basil. We ordered the latter topped with bits of fried chicken, but you can also choose beef, prawns, or vegetables to put atop any of the four "From Our Woks" offerings, which include a Phat Thai.
Up in the Snacks section you'll find an alluring Spicy Chicken Liver (served with what I hear is a fantastic roti) and a half dozen Steamed Oysters, but don't sleep on the Kanom Krok, especially if you're here for breakfast or brunch. These creamy coconut custard cups, topped with green onion or taro for a pleasing counterbalance, are apparently a pain in the ass to make, but are definitely delicious to eat.
As at any good diner, there's an array of desserts available, including a No-Bake Cheesecake, Apple Dumplings in butterscotch, Chocolate Cake, and a few flavors of ice cream from Morganstern's. But really, there was no way I wasn't getting the Coconut Monster, which is like the best piece of moist-and-crunchy coconut cream cake you've ever had, served in the shape of a scary little demon.
Thai Diner is located at 186 Mott Street, at the corner of Kenmare Street, and is currently open on Tuesday through Friday from 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., and on the weekends from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Closed Mondays, dinner coming soon (646-559-4140; thaidiner.com)