Before the pandemic, Pata Paplean’s nam tok boat noodles would slosh briefly into view each Saturday around noon and stay there until 5 p.m., all times being highly approximate. The next afternoon the noodles would return to the bar. Then they would disappear until the following weekend, when they would come back for another ten-hour manifestation. If you wanted a bowl, you almost had to set an alarm.
Pata Paplean sits at one end of the strip of Thai businesses along Woodside Avenue in Elmhurst, Queens, between Elmhurst Hospital and the joint Sikh-Hindu temple. Unlike, say, Ayada or Hug Esan across the street, it has never been a major destination for dinner. With its odd hours, profoundly unserious cocktails, idiosyncratic menu of Thai drinking food, assortment of unrelated furniture and mesmerizing decorating scheme that includes a chandelier made out of stuffed animals, Pata Paplean is instead a hangout and drinking spot for local Thais. The name is a signal to them, and so is the stuffed monkey who perches on a trapeze above the bar; they are allusions to a Bangkok department store, Pata Pinklao, and the gorilla that lives on its seventh floor.
The nam tok noodles almost seemed to be an afterthought. They were tossed together at one end of the bar and when their allotted time was over, the makeshift noodle station was hustled out of the way to make the space available for drinking.
Once you have tried them, though, they are not likely to slip your mind. The broth is thickened with pork blood, endowing it with a creamy smoothness. It has the impenetrable inkiness of other blood-forward treats — black pudding, boudin noir, morcilla. But while their flavors can be blunt and one-note, the broth strikes a bright, major-key chord in which fish sauce, lime juice, fresh chiles and sugar stand out distinctly. The blood, rather than dampening the chord, makes it reverberate, the way the tiles in your shower can make your voice sound as resonant as Nina Simone’s.
With the soup, you can get any of five or six noodles, from thin and squiggly to thick and round. Which one hardly matters, as far as I can tell. What does matter are the toppings: some golden puffs of crackling, a floppy triangle or two of pork liver, a pork meatball, and a green patch of cilantro and flecks of white pepper.
The words blood soup may connote a primal feast. But the nam tok noodle soup that Pata Paplean presented for a few hours each weekend was a meal as complex and stimulating as anything you could buy for $5 in the city of New York.
That was before the pandemic, which hammered Elmhurst. Pata Paplean was one of several food businesses in the neighborhood that stayed closed for months, even for takeout and delivery, even after the start of the outdoor dining program in June.
When Pata Paplean finally came back to life in July, Naratip Klinsrisuk, one of the owners, could see that the new, early closing times and restrictions on serving alcohol required him to make some changes to the menu, the first item on which was popcorn.
Noodles were the answer. Noodles on the regular menu, noodles every day of the week, noodles at all hours.
Not only noodles in pork blood, either. Now, as it did during its pre-pandemic weekend noodle episodes, Pata Paplean also makes a sensational bowl of tom yum noodles. Though less complex than the brooding nam tok soup, the tom yum noodles are electrifying in their own right. Their translucent and bloodless pork broth is augmented with fish sauce and lime juice and then garnished with ground pork and fish balls. Like nam tok, tom yum noodles can be ordered in a dry version, which is not exactly dry but does contain much less broth.
When Pata Paplean sold noodles only on weekends, they were served in small bowls that you could hold in one hand. In this, the bar followed a Thai tradition that goes back to the original boat noodle vendors, who ran their businesses out of narrow one-person vessels floating in the canals in and around Bangkok; supposedly, larger bowls would have been harder to hand over to customers waiting on the docks. (Mr. Klinsrisuk’s mother, Ploypan Klinsrisuk, who grew up in Bangkok and now lives in Queens, provided the recipes, which have now been passed down to the bar’s chef, Puwana Prathuangsuk.) Experienced customers would sometimes order two bowls at a time, eat them both, and then decide whether a third bowl was called for.
In their pandemic edition, there are more noodles, and they cost $10. One bowl could make a light dinner if you are not especially ravenous. But the original Pata Paplean menu, which remains intact with the addition of the noodles, is full of small dishes that can flesh out a meal.
Pata Paplean fries chicken in the style of Hat Yai, a Thai city so far south it is almost in Malaysia. This fried chicken has no crust to speak of, just a thin golden shell from a last-minute coat of rice flour. Under it, the meat echoes with coriander seeds, garlic and other seasonings. Highly spiced, but not spicy in the hot-chile sense, it holds a place of its own in New York’s fried-chicken culture.
There are also grilled, soy-marinated meat strips that resemble a sweeter, juicer version of Thai beef jerky. At Pata Paplean, they go by the name “beef heaven,” which oversells them by a bit, but not by much. Pata balls is the restaurant’s name for grilled, finely ground pork meatballs, served with a sweet tamarind glaze on the side. Either is ideal with sticky rice and a bottle of Chang.
But if you’re having a drink, why stick to beer? Pata Paplean has a drinks menu that is joyfully immune to the scrupulously earnest school of hand-carved ice cubes and housemade beet bitters. Consider, if you dare, the Mango Sticky Rice. Nominally, at least, this is not a dessert but a cocktail inspired by one, sweet and thick and yellow and swimming in rum. The glass is topped with a cherry on a cushion of whipped cream.
Usually, the mango sticky rice is a little too ambitious for me, and I fall back on the more streamlined and refreshing Tom Yum, a kind of vodka rickey with lemongrass and lime leaf.
Indoor dining has returned to Elmhurst, but Pata Paplean’s space is tight, and the six-foot rule means that only six people at a time can be seated inside. For as long as the weather cooperates, the outdoor seating is ideal.
Mr. Prathuangsuk built the street-dining platform himself. It’s conceivable that he had a couple of Mango Sticky Rices before he sketched out the design, which partakes of the tropical/tiki aesthetic. True, there are no volcanoes, but there is a monkey’s head affixed to the top of a fence post.