Zaab Zaab made a name for itself when it opened in Elmhurst in May with a focus on Isan Thai dishes. It reaped rave reviews from Eater and the New York Times as well as visits from chefs of Dame and Dhamaka for cooking with offal, its nuanced integration of roasted chiles and bitter herbs, and multi-textured plays on traditional duck dishes. It’s now expanding to three locations: a standalone restaurant in Williamsburg in September; a stall at the James Beard-backed food hall in Chelsea expected to open later in the fall; and a spacious stand at the new Tangram mall in Flushing planned for this winter.
Zaab Zaab’s owners, Bryan Chunton and Pei Wei, have repurposed their former Tiger Prawn space on 208 Grand Street, between Driggs and Bedford avenues, in Williamsburg, for the next iteration of their Isan hit. The restaurant will feature a menu helmed by current employee, chef Kannika Kittipinyovath, that leans more heavily into Isan-style seafood with dishes like oysters with papaya salad. Elmhurst chef Aniwat Khotsopa’s best-selling salt-crusted and pandan-stuffed fish and larb ped udon with minced duck meat and slivers of liver and fried skin will also be available. The location has a full bar that boasts ya dong — a potent northeast Thai moonshine made from fermented rice and herbs that’s gone upscale in Bangkok in recent years. Signage is up, but the murals inside still need a touch-up, co-owner Bryan Chunton says. He’s currently working to hire staff, and he aims to open in two weeks.
Over in Chelsea, Zaab Zaab’s 200-square-foot stall within the new 16,000-square-foot food hall at Pier 57 is underway; it’s a project led by Jamestown, the operators behind Chelsea Market; Google, and the James Beard Foundation. In the ring with about a dozen top chefs, Chunton aims to show off Khotsopa’s dishes, but he hasn’t yet nailed down a menu.
Back out in Queens, co-owner and former Flushing resident Pei Wei was excited when Helen Lee, executive Vice President of F&T Group behind the sprawling new Tangram mall, reached out to bring the restaurant to downtown Flushing. Zaab Zaab took over the biggest space in the food court — roughly the size of the Elmhurst restaurant — and outfitted it with a small dining section for the substantial lunch crowds. Chunton says he will focus on quick-service lunches there, and “most likely” offer the biggest hits from the original restaurant. The Flushing outpost is expected to open this winter.
It wasn’t Chunton’s plan to expand Zaab Zaab when he and Wei first opened in Elmhurst. He’s “a little surprised” by the attention, but he also acknowledges that he goes the extra mile to procure hard-to-find ingredients like the bitter herb called sadao that will be available at all four locations.
Chunton says his mantra across the board is: “If I’m going to eat something, I’m going to eat it right.”