Thai Dishes, Beloved and Rare, at Playground in Woodside, Queens

The microphones may be stowed away and the Thai pop songs confined to a TV, but Playground still draws a Thai crowd. They come for $3 Singha beers during a happy hour that stretches from opening time until 1 a.m., and for dishes that make no concessions to Western palates.


Here, pad kra pao with stir-fried holy basil and century eggs.

An Rong Xu for The New York Times

A meal here could be nothing but salads, although that’s too meek a word for the likes of profoundly funky bamboo shoots; broken rice croquettes streaked with red curry paste; and crunchy raw shrimp, shining from fish sauce and lime, adorned with half-cloves of garlic the size of shark teeth and crushed chiles, not a seed left behind. Morning glory, bright green inside crispy shells of tempura flour, is meant to be dunked in a sauce that’s almost a curry unto itself, heavy with squid, shrimp and ground pork.

One night, I ordered som tam (papaya salad) with pla raa, a famously pungent pickled fish sauce. The waitress said, “Really?” and smiled. When it arrived, she put it slightly to the side, warning, “The smell is strong.” It was a step into another dimension, tasting like the ocean boiled down until it gave up the secrets of the depths.

More familiar to Westerners is pad kra pao, stir-fried holy basil, which here gains briny contours from jellylike century eggs, the yolks gone black. (The Thai name, khai yiao ma, translates literally as “horse urine egg.”) A thrillingly sour curry is topped by triangles of omelet threaded with fernlike chaom, whose leaves have a sulfurous stench when raw — according to one Thai botanist, they should never be placed near pet mynah birds, lest the birds die from the fumes — but turn gentle and nutty in the pan.

The servers may ask, as they often do at Thai restaurants around town, “How spicy?”…

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