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A bowl of ground pork, rice in a basket, crudite, and herbs.
Chiang Mai larb can be seen as the equivalent of a diner chef’s salad..

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Find One of Brooklyn’s Most Exciting Thai Spots on an Industrial Corner of Bushwick

Get ready for sour sausage, fermented noodles, and plenty of heat at Changmai Diner

For the last few years the city’s collection of regional Thai restaurants has steadily grown. Isan — in the Northeast along the Mekong River — led the way with fiery meat salads, fragrant grilled chickens, dried catfish, and steaming baskets of sticky rice. Gradually we became familiar with the curries and sweet-and-tart soups of Sukothai in Central Thailand; cosmopolitan cuisine of Bangkok, highlighting street food while embracing international influences; and beach fare of Southern Thailand’s Malay peninsula. Only the northernmost region around the city of Chiang Mai has been neglected — until now.

Star shaped fried dumplings.
Crab rangoon unlike you’ve ever had it before.
A red curry broth with all sorts of vegetables and spices bobbing around.
Pork jungle curry is way spicy.

Two-month-old Chiangmai Diner at 942 Flushing Avenue, near Central Avenue, is one of those new restaurants that adopts a diner approach to eating and runs with it. Though the inside doesn’t look much like a diner, the menu features food from all parts of Thailand and beyond, plainly presented. There is, for example, the tiki bar standard crab Rangoon ($10). It is normally something I avoid, but here the star-shaped dumplings oozing cream cheese are hot, crunchy, and tasty in a trashy sort of way.

Curries are available in profusion from several areas of the country. These are the equivalent of a diner’s blue plate specials — perfect for solo meals, so rife with vegetables and herbs you won’t need anything else besides a bowl of rice. My favorite is the pork jungle curry ($16). Lacking the mediating effects of coconut milk, there’s nothing mellow about this northern Thai curry, and stalks of pickled green peppercorn wag in the purplish broth.

A green corner building with a picture of a white elephant.
Chiangmai Diner was once a dive bar.
A dark room with a mural on the rear wall.
Lights hang from the ceiling in the rear room.

Like a diner menu, a large part of the Chiangmai’s offerings provide a choice of 10 or so proteins to go into a curry or basil stir fry. I often skip over those sorts of dishes, wondering: Does it really not matter whether you dump chicken, tofu, or mock duck into a certain sauce? If you eliminate those dishes that give choices from Chiangmai’s menu, you’ll arrive at the ones that represent the cuisine of Chiang Mai, where the protein pairing apparently does matter.

Chiangmai Diner, by the way, is descended from Soho’s Lan Larb Changmai, a restaurant that switched from an Isan to a Chiang Mai menu a decade ago. The chef and owner of both is Rathakate Khuankaow, who grew up in Phayao, a city almost on the Laotian border, and also not far from Myanmar. It occupies a sprawling space that was a notorious dive bar called Wreck Room a decade ago, described by Gothamist as a place where “you could make out with an un-showered stranger atop a torn car seat.”

The high-ceilinged space still resembles the 19th century factory it probably once was, with three eating areas. The first is the barroom with big windows that catch the sunset from across Flushing Avenue; the second, long and narrow and looking into the kitchen; and the third, with dancing luminaria hanging from the ceiling and a mural of a darkened hillside dotted with golden Buddhist temples.

How about a diner-style bar snack to go with your Chang beer as you study the menu? Sai oua ($16) is a pair of plumpish pork sausages — looking very much like the breakfast sausages at Waverly Diner but heaped with peanuts, shreds of raw ginger, herbs, and little red chiles that will blow the top off your skull off if you take the tiniest nibble. Hung lay ($34) is a massive beef short rib lolling in a thick garnet broth that may remind you of a Mexican adobo, but with pickled garlic and ginger skewing the flavor. Potatoes add smoosh and make the dish easily enough for two.

A red plate with two sausages and slender red chiles.
The sour sausage of northern Thailand makes a fantastic bar snack.
A bowl of brown broth with two kinds of noodles.
Khao soi, Chiang Mai’s signature chicken soup.

Two don’t-miss Chiang Mai dishes: The first you are probably already familiar with: kha soi, the chicken soup with two kinds of noodles, one crunchy like chow mein that slowly become softer, the other slippery egg noodles. This dish evolves as you eat it, and this version is thicker and richer than ones you may have tasted before.

The second goes by the name of kanom jean nham ngiaw ($19), a dish so complex it’s hard to fully describe the elusive flavor. It begins with fermented rice noodles that suggest the influence of Yunnanese food immersed in a pork-rib broth laced with chile oil, with an emphasis on salty, sweet, and sour flavors. Did I mention the top of the dish is littered with crunchy bits of pig skin?

A bowl of noodles and other stuff with dark brown broth.
Kanom jean nham ngiaw with fermented noodles at Chiangmai Diner.
A red drink with raspberries and blueberries on top.
Wai-jai-dai-ga at Chiangmai Diner.

Though beer is the drink of choice, Chiangmai pays attention to cocktails, too, and there are some very good ones. Some tend to be sweet, which makes a good combination with the spicier dishes on the menu. My favorite? Wai-jai-dai-ga ($16), which begins with ginger beer and lime vodka then adds berries for color, and makrut lime leaves for a bitter and citrusy kick.

Chiangmai Diner is currently the most exciting Thai restaurant in Brooklyn, right up there with Ugly Baby. The relaxed atmosphere, unique culinary offerings from Chiang Mai, and plainness of the plating make it doubly enjoyable.

Chiangmai Diner

942 Flushing Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11206 Visit Website
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