As you walk down Fulton Street and dodge the never-ending construction work, you could easily miss a booming business, and some of the best Thai food you’ll encounter in this city.
Bennie’s Thai Cafe has been in business since 1996, and if you head toward the East River, look down just before you reach Gold Street and there it is, an unpretentious, relaxing haven.
The owners didn’t even start out pursuing a Thai restaurant. Back in the late 70s, Bennie Boon, her husband, James, and some friends partnered up and bought two Blimpie franchises in Chelsea and on Trinity Place in Downtown. Since most of the employees were Thai, Bennie decided to cook something for the staff, meals that routinely included pots of curry or noodles.
Then word got around Thai circles that there was a place owned by Thai people in Lower Manhattan.
So, Bennie started a small steam table out of the back of Blimpie’s called: Bennie’s Thai Corner.
When the Boons were bought out back in 1992, they searched for spaces in Lower Manhattan where they could re-open Bennie’s Thai Corner again. After a short stint on West Street, the couple rediscovered a space that sat empty for a number of years on Fulton Street.
It wasn’t an ideal space at the time – after all, it’s easy to miss – but Bennie’s Thai Cafe was born.
Today, Bennie’s has become a sort-of cafeteria for office workers during lunchtime and, in the evenings, a home kitchen for residents of the ever-growing Financial District neighborhood. (The Downtown Alliance’s residential survey recently noted the dramatic growth, from about 25,000 people in 2001 to 55,000 folks today south of Chambers Street.)
As a regular customer for more than a decade, I can easily say it’s worth the trip. While my favorite is the steamed dumplings, you should try the Pad Thai, Spicy Noodles, Curry Puffs and Jungle Curry (note to readers: some of the dishes are very spicy so ask about the heat level first!).
Some of Bennie’s more interesting items are the Thai salads, called “Yum,” a mix of tamarind, lime juice, fish sauce, chili peppers, onions, and cucumbers, and whichever meat or seafood you want to add. It’s a perfect representation of Thai flavors of sweet, salty, sour and fiery, all at once.
Stick around for dessert if you can and try the Thai sweet sticky rice with mango or custard, baked acorn squash filled with custard, and fried bananas. (Oh, and before I forget, bring cash or American Express; that’s all they take.)
And say “Hi” to Bennie (or her daughter, Amy) who you can always find behind the counter or in the kitchen.