If you closed your eyes and envisioned what a trendy restaurant in New York’s Lower East Side would look like—and sound like, and feel like, and taste like—in 2017, Pig & Khao is probably a spot on match to your imagination. Pig & Khao brings the funk in the best way possible, from robustly flavorful and inspired dishes to a buzzy, energy-filled atmosphere, with Kendrick Lamar bumping on the speakers, and cooks and runners in the open grill station fronting the chef’s counter singing along.
Pig & Khao is from former Top Chef contestant Leah Cohen, and while she has serious fine dining chops she tosses all frills aside for her restaurant. Instead, the focus is simply on delivering the goods, with wonderfully potent dishes spanning a range of southeast Asian influences, from Thai to Filipino, Burmese to Malaysian.
The smells in the air and flavors on my plate bring me straight back to sweaty, humid spent nights in Thailand, discovering crazy delicious vendor food hidden away in the back of some dark, bustling alley.
One signature is the grilled pork jowl with Brussels sprouts, which officially puts the fork in that ubiquitous menu staple of Brussels sprouts and pancetta—that tired out dish is done, slayed by this suped-up replacement. A hefty dose of fish sauce delivers that aforementioned funk, while cilantro livens up the plate, and the thin-sliced pork jowl pieces serve as hidden little meat gems you have to work to find amongst the well-charred Brussels.
Bun Bo Nam Bo, a beef noodle bowl, is recommended by a server, and delivers loads of flavor in every bite. Mix in an array of toppings with lusciously sticky rice noodles and delicious beef slices accented by vibrant lemongrass. My bowl was very nearly licked clean.
Another staple is the Sizzling Sisig, a dish of pork head bits chopped into tiny nuggets of different sizes and textures. It’s served in a hot cast iron pan with a raw egg in the middle, with the egg quickly cooking in place as you begin to mix everything around. Every bite manages to be just a little different, making for an addictive game of attempting to find the perfect forkful.
Elsewhere on the menu, look for the khao soi and green papaya salad, as well as larger plates, such as crispy Pata, half Hainanese duck, and BBQ baby back ribs.
Pig & Khao is located at 68 Clinton St. The restaurant opens daily at 5pm for dinner, and also serves brunch on the weekends—which I now realize I’ll have to go back to New York to try.