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Dining Out: Ayada: Elmhurst restaurant offers authentic Thai cuisine

One of the great things about living in Queens is easy access to our own Southeast Asian enclave where we can explore the culinary wonders of Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia — all a stone’s throw from home.

Where Woodside and Elmhurst meet, you can explore supermarkets with a full complement of necessities of these cuisines, like galangal, Thai eggplant and kaffir lime leaves, or just enjoy the finished product prepared for the natives — not dumbed down for Westerners.

Ayada, a relative newcomer to the nabe’s authentic Thai roster, is a good place to do just that.

It is nestled on a commercial strip of Woodside Avenue, serving the surrounding pan-Asian residential neighborhood. Its flashily lit storefront belies its small, modestly decorated interior.

Ayada’s offerings span the culinary regions of Thailand with emphasis on the south and an E-san (Northeastern) specialty thrown in here and there. We started off with fried chive vegetable dumplings, which turned out not to be anything like we anticipated.

Steamed Chinese chive dumplings are a favorite dim sum of ours, and we expected some fried version of something similar — a chive-laced filling encased in dough and fried. Not even close. Our server brought us a plate of fried triangles crispy on the outside and slightly gummy on the inside, like many Asian sweets. We would guess the chives had been mixed with sticky rice flour or some combination of rice flours, shaped and fried. After a quick mindset adjustment, we found these dumplings oddly addictive.

E-san Thai sour sausage, a semi-hard sausage served with combined cooked and raw vegetables, is a perfect bar snack food. It just cries out for a cold beer.

If you are looking for something that conforms to the Western definition of a salad — a light filler-in course mostly made of cold, raw veggies, you would be hard pressed to find one on Ayada’s list. With perhaps the exception of the papaya salad, all of Ayada’s are protein-heavy affairs — in some cases topped with warm meats.

We bypassed the raw shrimp salad, even though it has received the most enthusiastic of accolades from others because we are squeamish about eating raw shrimp. If you are not, we understand it comes highly recommended. We instead opted for the barbecue pork with chili, garlic and lime juice, which imparts an intoxicating flavor. This is a substantial dish that would preclude the consumption of an entrée as well in all but the most inveterate of trenchermen — or women. The pork is served warm over the veggies.

At our request, roast duck was substituted for vegetable duck in basil sauce on the menu. Thai basil sauce is a classic preparation which melded successfully with the duck, although we would like to have seen more of the duck’s fat rendered.

A choice of whole snapper, sea bass or salmon is offered six different ways and sold at market price. Since the first five of the options were fried, we went for the sixth — steamed with chili and lime juice. The vibrant flavors of cilantro, lime and garlic held counterpoint to the gently steamed fresh fish.

The Bottom Line

While Thai restaurants may have become a cliché, with even your local Chinese take-out joint purporting to offer Thai specialties along with their sushi, authentic Thai eateries making traditional food from scratch are uncommon. If you want to learn to appreciate the true tastes of Thailand, Ayada is a great place to do it. That is, unless you are too Thai-ed up.

Suzanne Parker is TimesLedger Newspapers’ restaurant critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, N.Y.” She can be reached at qnsfoodie@aol.com.

Ayada

77-08 Woodside Ave.

Elmhurst, NY 11373

718-424-0844

Price Range: Appetizers $4 to $8, entrees $8 to $10, weekday lunch special $7 (includes choice of main dish, one appetizer and soup)

Cuisine: Thai

Setting: Small, minimally decorated but inviting

Service: Excellent

Hours: 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., seven days

Alcohol: No license

Reservations: No

Parking: Street

Dress: Casual

Children: Welcome

Takeout: Yes, free local delivery

Credit Cards: Yes

Noise Level: Acceptable

Handicap Accessible: Yes

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