You, my dear readers, may or may not know about my love for Cambodian-influenced sandwiches (called num pang). It all started way back in 2007 when I ate from the (sadly) closed Lower East Side restaurant Kampuchea. Coincidentally enough, one of the chefs of Kampuchea, Ratha Chaupoly, opened with his college friend, Ben Daitz, Num Pang in Greenwich Village in 2009.
I have eaten a few of their awesome sandwiches at their original shop since then. Somehow they manage to consistently get the bread to sandwich filling ratio right and toast their fresh semolina flour baguettes correctly. My personal favorite and standby is their Five-Spice Glazed Pork Belly. Except by the time I dropped in their new Midtown location on East 41st Street for a late lunch two weeks ago, it got 86′d. D’oh!
I ended up deciding on their “Special Sandwiches” (essentially, sandwiches made only at this location), the Roasted Chicken ‘Chimi ($7.50) along with their fresh watermelon juice ($3.50) and grilled corn on the cob ($2.50). The chicken ‘chimi’ sandwich was pretty fantastic. Grilled, smoky chicken breast – and most importantly not overcooked and dry; the yogurt-chili mayo added a subtle tartness and heat and the most interesting part of that sandwich was the pickled apple. The latter element gave it a subtle freshness and crispness to the whole. I didn’t need the sriracha sauce as it had enough heat without overwhelming the sandwich. The watermelon juice was refreshing. It’s unfiltered puréed fresh watermelon just to remind you that there is fresh watermelon in your cup. The grilled corn on the cob is, as always, a beloved side dish for me. The sweet corn melds so well with the chili mayo, coconut flakes, a dusting of chili powder. This entire meal was really filling.
As I ate my lunch there, the space is slightly bigger than its first shop except there is no seating. Standing room for sure and you may try to squeeze in a spot to stand on their bar that line along the vibrant, graffiti wall. (I adore the hip-hop chicken, as seen at the first above set of photos.). The atmosphere is generally upbeat from the occasional blaring of hip-hop music playing in the background to the lively conversations of the diners and people who are waiting for their food. There’s never a quiet moment as this place is constantly filled with a mix of tourists coming out from Grand Central Station to the local office workers who wanted eat something, yet interesting and creative than what a generic deli or sandwich shop offers.
Since I had an evening meeting, I was the benevolent boss and brought a whole bunch of food back to my office and share with my co-workers. Above is the Green Market gazpacho (small, $3.75) and grilled chicken salad ($7.50). The soup was refreshing from the fresh tomatoes used yet it’s dark, smoldering flavors from all those roasted chili peppers used to spice it. The chicken salad is substantial if it was for one person. The chicken was cooked well and it has that charred smoky flavor like the chicken ‘chimi’ sandwich. The vinegar-based dressing was a nice touch to keep the light flavors despite the fact it is a filling salad.
The Brooklyn Bangers ($7.25) is another location-specific sandwich. This was good with some subtle heat from the sausage patty but it’s not as exciting for the chicken ‘chimi’ (for me, at least). The classic coconut tiger shrimp sandwich is something I wouldn’t mind eating in the intolerable humidity and heat of the city. It’s tastes light from the coconut flavor and the shrimp doesn’t feel like it would weigh someone down.
My co-workers and I adored the grilled asparagus with chive and lime vinaigrette ($6; since Num Pang changes their menu on a seasonal basis, they no longer serve this particular grilled vegetable). The sauce made the asparagus insanely addictive to eat. The grilled Spanish mackerel with leeks ($7.75) was a bit tad heavy and soggy for us. I do take partial blame about the time from me getting the sandwiches to the time it entered our mouths. Overlooking that part, the flavors were very good.
The grilled skirt steak ($9) was a winner for the beef lovers. It was loaded with tons of tender, flavorful beef with a touch of heat to keep things interesting. The ginger barbecue brisket sandwich ($8) tasted something similar to what my dad would cook up one day if he ever would barbecue brisket. And that is a compliment, as my dad makes a very mean Chinese (Cantonese-style) barbecue spare ribs or any meat dish he cooks.
Num Pang’s sole dessert, if you would call it, is the tropical fruit salad ($4.50). This bountiful cup (it’s served in an eco-friendly soup cup that you’d normally encounter for to-go, not this martini glass) is filled with fresh pitted litchis, cubes of papaya, pineapple, mango and young coconut, dressed with lemongrass and mint. It’s very refreshing and satisfying after eating a hefty sandwich.
Overall, Num Pang’s creative sandwiches are excellent. Even their non-sandwich items are worth your time consuming. Every savory item has flavor and a balance of heat that wouldn’t scorch your palate. The prices are very reasonable for the quality of food you are getting and it does satiate your hunger.
To see more photos of this visit (along with gussied up photos of Num Pang’s food), please click through my slideshow below:
140 E. 41st Street (between Lexington & 3rd Ave)
New York, NY (Map)
Telephone: (212) 867-8889
Monday – Friday: 11am-9pm