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Fearless Critic restaurant review
New Haven
Casual restaurant

Mon–Thu 11:30am–3:00pm
Mon–Thu 5:00pm–9:30pm
Fri–Sat 11:30am–10:00pm
Sun 11:30am–9:30pm

Features Veg-friendly
Bar Beer, wine
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Not accepted

East Rock
1027 State St.
New Haven, CT
(203) 772-6679
Rice Pot
The leader of the pack when it comes to traditional Thai dishes, depending on how you order

This cozy little house has been occupied by a series of Thai restaurants. Rice Pot has upscaled both the menu and prices, and modernized the décor slightly. Even if the touristy Thai paraphernalia on the walls and cheap-feeling booths keep the place safely out of date-friendly territory, this is now the most exciting Thai restaurant in the city of New Haven—but that’s true only if you order selectively.

Many of the lunch options are the same sort of bland pan-Asian stuff that you could find at any of the cookie-cutter Thai restaurants around town, including Rice Pot’s sister, Thai Taste (which is slowly improving). Whether the blame lies more on the supply or demand side, it’s frustrating that these Thai restaurants uniformly see fit to bloat their menus with Chinese-American stir frys, Indonesian-American satays, underspiced curry gravies, and greasy spring rolls with sugar-spiked dipping sauces. It’s particularly frustrating here, because the kitchen is capable of so much more—yet, because of the menu’s layout and limited lunch specials, few customers experience the best this place has to offer.

Start with som tam, a fresh, crunchy, green papaya-based salad that’s ubiquitous in northern Thailand but hard to find in Connecticut. Ask for it “spicy,” and you’ll get an authentic version with green beans and peanuts that harmonizes notes of chili, lime, fish sauce, and sugar (though the dried shrimp is sometimes too chewy and not well integrated). Tod man pla is more of a rote appetizer: soggy, fried, lukewarm minced-fish cakes with assertive kaffir lime flavor are paired with a chili sauce so sweet it’s like jam.

Order from the yum (salad) and specials for best results. Yum pla duk fu is an underappreciated salad of crispy catfish and green mango. Larb, the traditional northern Thai and Lao salad of minced pork (or, in a concession to American tastes, minced chicken), is all about limey complexity. In moo nam tok, fatty chunks of pork are magnificently marinated and grilled and balanced against chili, lime, red onion, and rice powder. Whole striped bass, lightly battered, fried, and bathed in chu chee curry, is fresh, rich with coconut milk, and fun to eat. This is not the way it’s done in Thailand, but we can only ask for so much.

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