Rated by Chowhounds as one of the city’s best Thai restaurants, Thailand’s Center Point in Woodside, Queens stands out for its crispy papaya salad, chef Annie’s deep-fried take on a classic. CHOW.com contributing editor Pervaiz Shallwani filed the following report.
New York Chowhounders like to debate the best Thai restaurant in the city. In the past couple of years, the argument has grown to include Thailand’s Center Point, where the papaya salad comes deep-fried.
I first visited this tiny spot in Woodside, Queens several years ago, when it was just a grocery store selling Thai spices, sauces and excellent sausages.
Now, Annie the owner has an intimate 10-table restaurant that has plenty of passionate fans.
It’s an intimate space and a charming experience with Annie in the kitchen and her daughters, Pam and Ginger, handling customers.
Annie’s menu is a mix of dishes she remembers from her native Bangkok. It’s where I come for a basil and garlic-packed pork larb; fried Lao-style sausages that are crisp and full of flavor and a duck red curry that is rich and soothing.
Not to be missed, though, is the crispy papaya salad. Annie wanted to stand out so she decided to deep-fry her papaya. She starts with shredded raw, green papaya, dips them into a wet and dry batter for extra crispiness and deep-fries them twice.
She tops the crispy shards with fresh vegetables, shrimp and calamari. It’s finished with with a fiery dressing of garlic, red chilies, peanuts, lime juice, sugar and fish sauce.
The dish feels like a wicked Thai take on onion straws with just enough fresh vegetables and unadulterated seafood to seem balanced. The papaya is crisp and spicy, getting a tangy sweet relief from the tomatoes and sugar.
When they are in season, try the dish with soft shell crab.
Just beware, no matter what you order, Pam or Ginger will ask you "how spicy." Even medium here tests the tastebuds. It’s a good excuse to bring a crisp white wine or your favorite lager. It’s "bring your own" after all.
Thailand’s Center Point is located at 63-19 39th Avenue in Woodside, Queens. For more dining recommendations, visit CHOW.com. Follow Pervaiz Shallwani on Twitter at @Pervaizistan.