>> Hug Esan | Eat the World NYC

20 July 2017

Hug Esan


About four years ago, the property where Hug Esan now lives was a one story building occupied by a common New York City bodega that sold sodas and beer, distributed lottery tickets, and also made some tacos. Eventually this building was torn down and a three story building took its place, with a small commercial space on the ground floor. Hug Esan has filled this space with a seven or eight table restaurant and tiny kitchen, cooking the delightful foods of northeastern Thailand and Laos.

Even on a busy night, walking inside is met by the friendly smiles and welcomes of the staff. Loud Esan music plays, and the place swirls with activity as pungent flavorful dishes come out of the kitchen.

Thai couples have seem to take a liking to it and flock to here. We were seated at the only available two top upon arrival, surrounded by two Thai couples and two Thai families. Another couple arrived on motorbike with helmets in tow, true to form as if the meal was actually taking place in Khon Kaen.

A good way to begin your explorations here is to grab plates of som tum and larb, two Esan Lao specialties. The tom poo ($7, above) is green papaya salad flavored by the raw crab, while lime juice "cooks" like it does in ceviche. It seems even fresher here than the fantastic som tum specialists in the East Village, if possible. The resident Thai diner at Eat the World NYC meals raved quite earnestly about it until the plate was clean.

Having never tried it, the bamboo shoot larb ($7, below) seemed to entice. The decision was a good one, as the flavor and texture of bamboo seems to be perfect for this salad usually made of ground meats or fish. It was prepared nicely hot and should be accompanied by a portion of sticky rice.

After enjoying these two small-ish dishes, exploring the rest of the menu consisting of a good range of Esan options opens up. On the "signature" list, we actually found the Hug Esan curry rice noodle ($10, below) to be our weakest dish. Despite the chili pepper icon next to it, it was neither spicy nor that flavorful, more sweet like the thick peanut massaman curries that pervade westernized Thai menus.

The Thai word for dill is phak chi lao, which actually translates to Lao coriander. While not necessarily known as an ingredient commonly used in Thai food, in Esan dill does have quite a bit of life in curries made without coconut milk and certain soups. For this reason, the dill soup ($7, below) grabbed interest immediately. This version was served with forgettable slices of beef, but the soup itself is otherwise very tasty, full of sourness that paired so well with the dill. The broth hides small Thai eggplant, pumpkin, and cabbage, giving the soup a nice hardiness.

Based solely on the positive atmosphere and happy customers, Hug Esan is making a quick first impression on the neighborhood. For a street that is already saturated with excellent foods from Thailand, this is no easy task.

The ongoing story of Thai food in New York City is continuing its constant improvement, music to our mouths.

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Hug Esan Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

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