At Uncle Boons Sister, the counter service-spinoff to the Michelin-starred Thai spot, most of our order was ready within ten minutes. This would’ve been something to boast about if we weren’t still ten minutes from finding a table. There are just twelve (indoor) seats. There is no bar.
Eating while standing is not uncommon at barbecue joints, tapas spots, or Penn Station. It’s slightly more complicated when the guest is dealing with knife and fork food. At Uncle Boons Sister, I attempted to consume a soy-braised pork shank on the tiny countertop above a beer fridge. Then a banana leaf-wrapped fish curry, steamed with the heady scent of lemongrass, came out of the kitchen. That was followed by phat thai with head on prawns. And then the staff asked us to relocate from the beer fridge to an outdoor table. It was like 48 degrees outside. Yeah.
“We’re primarily a takeout spot,” the host told a guest, which is the same line I heard over the phone. That guest, like this one, was undeterred. If there’s a bench, New Yorkers will sit on it. And if two of the city’s top Thai chefs — Ann Redding and Matt Danzer — start serving affordable, one plate dinners in a city dominated by overpriced everything, then people are going to want to treat it as an actual restaurant. There are seats inside, after all.
This is not to criticize the small wife-and-husband team for this delicious gift to the community, a brilliant revamp of their old Mr. Donohue’s space with nothing priced over $15. But these anecdotes should give pause to the more deeper-pocketed empire builders looking to disrupt takeout and delivery. When given the opportunity, I like to think that New Yorkers, plagued by smaller apartments and longer nights at the office, prefer to escape to establishments that don’t send them back home (or back to work) too quickly. Some of those establishments are called restaurants. They do not need disrupting. They simply need to exist.
And so I hope Uncle Boons Sister can grow one day too. Even if it’s designed to be a high-turnover takeout spot, I watched guests, seemingly indifferent to the looming crowd, linger at the handful of tables as if this were a decades-old neighborhood cafe. This is how New Yorkers deserve to dine.
Here’s an early guide what to order and what to avoid at Uncle Boons Sister, another easy candidate for one of the year’s best places to eat. Note: This venue is credit card-only.
Khao Mun Gai: A near-perfect example of slow-roasted poultry, with fork tender flesh and a layer of skin textured like a carnivorous fruit roll-up. If the flavor of the flesh veers in a somewhat neutral direction, as is often the case with breast meat, make liberal use of the included dark, salty soy ginger sauce. The chicken sits over jasmine rice and comes with a side of soothing cilantro and lemon-spiked broth. A one plate meal for $12 (quarter bird, thigh) or $13 (breast with wing). It is without question one of the best deals in Soho, though do not sleep on the $22 variant at Uncle Boons proper, which involves a whole half bird, dipping sauces, and a green papaya salad.
Muu Ping: Grilled bits of pork butt, marinated in fish sauce, soy, palm sugar, and garlic. The kitchen piles six of the salty, funky, sweet, savory skewers on a plate for $9. Pair with beer.
Kanom Jiin Nam Ya Puu: An organized plate of soft rice noodles, fish sauce, and chile-laced coconut broth, along with pineapple slices, verdant Thai herbs, and crab packed with unmistakeable oceanic sweetness. Everything tastes precisely like it sounds ($15).
Sai Oua: Pork and rice sausage on a hot dog-style bun with a shredded papaya topping. The sausage is delicately packed and deeply fragrant of lemongrass, while the tart salad slices through the fattiness of the beef — and lights the palate ablaze with scattered Thai bird chiles ($9)
Khao Kaa Muu: Pork shank braised in soy and anise over rice and mustard greens. This dish was gently underseasoned on a recent visit; it needed a touch more salt to let the flavors pop ($15).
Aeb Plaa: Striped bass, steamed in a banana leaf. The fish, soft enough to eat with chopsticks, acts a neutral conduit for the intense aromas of garlic, shallots, and lemongrass. Stunning. ($15).
Phat Thai: A middle of the road rendition of the Thai comfort classic. Noodles are wok-fried with eggs, tofu, tamarind sauce, preserved radish, garlic chives, and dried shrimp. The flavor profile leans more sweet than salty or funky; the main draw of this dish are the creamy, barely-cooked-through head on prawns ($15).
Laab: Boneless fried chicken thigh over a salad of onions, cilantro, and toasted rice powder. Redding says it’s inspired by a version she encountered at a Bangkok KFC. The crispy chicken by itself boasts an ample punch of poultry, but the remaining ingredients lack the vibrant acidity or flavor clarity of competing dishes. I’d call this one a HOLD for now. Cost: $14.
Mataba: Thai-style roti, stuffed with yellow curry-laced lamb shoulder and potatoes. Add a touch of salt, dunk in red chile sauce, and you have yourself a fine $7 snack.