First Bites

Lung Yai Thai Tapas Is Little Havana's Hidden Gem

Just before midnight on a recent Friday, Chef Bas, head of Lung Yai Thai Tapas, fries a whole fish while holding a beer in his hand. Its tail curls appetizingly in the oil as if trying to escape, and a tantalizing scent fills the restaurant. But this dish isn't for a paying customer. After the handsome toque finishes the fish with a quick garnish and a douse of sauce, he sends it back into the kitchen for a staff meal.

At a restaurant, the staff is family, Bas says. Indeed, at Little Havana's intimate Lung Yai Thai Tapas, everybody is part of the clan.

Lung Yai opened a little more than a month ago at 1731 SW Eighth St. with some of the most delicious dishes in Miami, and the buzz has been slowly building. Already there are repeat visitors. 

Bas, whose full name is Veenuthtapon Trisransri, turns out refreshingly classic Thai dishes such as yum ped — a crispy duck salad tossed with chilies, red onion, pineapple, cashews, and scallions in a spicy lime dressing — and Thai curries, in the red, greed, panang, and massaman varieties.

The care that Bas and his staff take with the food is apparent in the way they serve diners. Throughout the entire experience, whether you're seated at the bar inside the slim space or outside on the patio, you will be continually asked if everything is all right. And it is, because the food is a pleasure to eat. The bright and clean stand-alone space is open till 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday and midnight the rest of the week.

That care is apparent in a chef's recommendation like the palo moo, a bowl of fragrant, delicately spiced pork broth filled with slow-cooked crisp pork belly, tofu, shiitake mushrooms, leafy greens, cilantro, and a hard-boiled egg sliced in half. The broth is the perfect mix of savory and sweet, with hints of star anise, reminiscent of Vietnamese pho.

Bas happily breaks down the process behind the palo moo — it takes hours to get a rich, deep flavor and clarity, achieved by chilling and skimming the soup — while the staff strongly recommends a spicy green vinegar topping.

Another chef's recommendation, the khao soi gai, is a piquant coconut curry served with a beautiful mess of golden fried egg noodles and a choice of beef or chicken. Like the palo moo, it's delicious and reasonably priced at $12. (In fact, no menu item tops $12.) Pair either dish with house-made passionfruit sake. 

The only downside at Lung Yai is you're confronted with the limits of your stomach. Everything on the menu is brilliant and lovingly executed. It's a shame you can't eat it all in one sitting.