I'm sort of on a quest to find the best plate of pad thai, and I pretty much think I found a winner. With reservations.
Cafetasia is an affordable casual Thai restaurant right around NYU so in the past 4 years, I've obviously been there loads of times. The first thing that got me hooked was this "block party" that NYU had, with local vendors giving away food samples. Their crab and cheese rangoon had me hooked. Hooked, I tell you! Crab meat and cream cheese, stuffed in a deep-fried wonton wrapper and dipped in a spicy tomato sauce. Four years of ingesting plates and plates of their crab and cheese rangoon appetizer and I still love it and get it every time.
Their lunch menu and early bird dinner menu allow for appetizer + entree, but otherwise the menu is categorized by "extra-small," "small," "medium," "large," and "extra-large" dishes. A typical entree, like pad thai, is considered medium.
So, the pad thai. I've had a mediocre pad thai at a place near my office, but the portion was teeny tiny. I had a pretty good pad thai near my sister's college in Massachusetts, but it was a bit more sour/tangy/fish-saucy. I had a pretty unremarkable pad thai at a Malaysian restaurant (Nyonya; go figure) but it was really just...unremarkable. I usually get chicken pad thai and somehow, can't really put my finger on it, but Cafetasia's chicken pad thai is delectable. Its flavors are perfectly balanced: the sour/tangy fish sauce does not overpower the creamy peanut notes. The raw bean sprouts scattered throughout and cooked gently with the heat of the noodles provide a pleasant crunchy mouthfeel. The bits of chicken are always moist and hearty. These things, plus the fact that the bowl feels bottomless, make Cafetasia's pad thai among the best I've ever had...and certainly the dish that I order the majority of the time I eat there (true story: for our two graduation ceremonies, back to back, I had lunch at Cafetasia and I ordered the exact same thing...crab and cheese rangoon with chicken pad thai).
Today I tried shrimp pad thai (shocker!). It was mostly the same, with a few inconsistencies. I think the cook was a bit off his A-game today. There were bits of noodle that were wholly uncooked and still crunchy. Not in a good way, but in a raw noodle way. The shrimp were tail-on...so I had to awkwardly spit my shells out on napkins. The shrimp were also ever-so-slightly overcooked and kind of bland. But the most egregious issue I discovered only after I left. So I wasn't able to finish about 1/3 of the bowl and asked for it to go. The waiter packed it up in a paper bag that I put in my handbag. I walk about 15 minutes to the train station and then open my bag to get my Metrocard, then open my bag to put back my Metrocard, asking myself, "why does my bag smell like a deep fryer?" THIS STUPID CONTAINER OF LEFTOVERS HAD OIL LEAKING OUT INTO THE PAPER BAG AND INTO MY PURSE. OH MY GOD. I HAVE NEVER BEEN SO UPSET WITH A DINING EXPERIENCE BEFORE. BESIDES GETTING OIL ALL OVER MY THINGS, IT PUT THESE DISGUSTING THOUGHTS IN MY HEAD OF HOW MUCH OIL I HAD ACTUALLY CONSUMED IN THE FOOD I JUST ATE. I'm serious, this paper bag was about to start DRIPPING had I not taken it out and put it on the floor (no garbage cans on the train!). When I finally got to my stop and picked up the bag to throw it out on the platform, it had left a sad PUDDLE (no exaggeration) of viscous grease on the floor of the subway (sorry, MTA). I was fuming.
Lesson learned: I think I need to either eat out less or be more mindful of what I order when I go to restaurants. The pad thai doesn't feel all that oily when you eat it, but it must be hiding. The noodles are covered in a vague sheen that I assume is just the sauce or whatever. But, no folks, it's freaking drowning in cooking oil. No more Cafetasia for me, at least for a loooong looooong time.