3 of a Kind: No-Noodle Pad Thai
3 of a Kind checks out three places across the country to try something cool, new and delicious.
Picture pad Thai and a ganglion of stir-fried noodles coated in a sweet and savory peanut sauce typically comes to mind. The dish is a staple of most Thai orders, but a few restaurants are upending the dish by removing noodles — at least in their typical form — and introducing heavy doses of creativity instead.
It’s a good thing Chef Kevin Johnson ditched his vegetarian diet. Otherwise he wouldn’t be able to try his own quirkiest dish at The Grocery — Pig Skin Pad Thai. Johnson created it during a tribute dinner for Chef Frank Lee of Slightly North of Broad, and it’s been on the menu ever since. Johnson slices pig skin into “noodles” and tops them with tofu, bean sprouts and peanuts. “It’s rich, but when cooked properly, the pig skin tastes just like silky udon noodles,” Johnson says. The texture even fooled his wife, who didn’t know what she was eating. “She’s a medium-adventurous eater, so it just goes to show it has enough of a noodle texture that she didn’t notice.” The Grocery’s focus on sustainability means the restaurant gets whole hogs, allowing Johnson to use as much of the animal as possible.
Edgar Cooper says he knew he was taking a gamble opening a vegan restaurant in New Orleans, where the cooking leans a little heavy. But it paid off. The Lower Garden District restaurant serves as a respite from all things deep-fried by beckoning to those seeking a healthy meal. Seed’s menu is a mix of cooked vegan comfort food and raw dishes like this take on pad Thai. The kitchen staff uses a spiralizer to make noodles out of carrots and cucumbers, which get topped with mung bean sprouts, jicama, peanuts, cilantro, greens and a dressing of raw almond butter, tamarind paste and raw coconut aminos. Cold and crunchy, unlike typical pad Thai, the dish is nonetheless one of Seed’s best-sellers.
In Manhattan’s East Village, this modern Thai comfort-food joint serves a mash-up of two popular Thai dishes — green papaya salad and pad Thai. “I use unripe papaya to make the noodles; instead of having a filling meal full of carbs, I use the fresh green papaya,” says Chef-Owner Hong Thaimee. She tops the green papaya “noodles” with traditional pad Thai toppings, including farm eggs, peanuts, garlic, chives, tofu and her special pad Thai sauce, whose recipe can be found in her cookbook, True Thai: Real Flavors for Every Table. Come cooler months, Thaimee makes a hearty variation of the dish — Crispy Papaya Pad Thai — using tempura-fried strips of the fruit.