Thai or Vietnamese in DC: do not miss?
I'm a NY hound and will be in DC this month. We're looking for a recommendation for a do-not-miss Thai, Vietnamese or Malaysian place for a romantic dinner for two. Cost is not an issue but the food needs to be amazing.
Thanks in advance,
The best Thai places in DC aren't in DC; I'd suggest Bangkok 54 or Thai Square, both on Columbia Pike in Arlington (across the river from DC), or possibly Ruan Thai in Wheaton MD. I've never had Thai in NY (too busy stuffing myself at ramen-yas when I'm there, I guess), but I don't know if any of the places here are really "destination restaurant" amazing--just good authentic Bangkok-style Thai food.
(You may get some recommendations for Rabieng or Duangrat's; both were once very good, and Rabieng in particular had a lot of more regional Thai dishes that you couldn't find elsewhere, but they've both gone downhill seriously in the last 5 years or so.)
(Oh, and if cost is really not an issue at all, then hop on a flight to Chicago and go to Arun's on Kedzie, which is hands-down the best Thai meal I've ever had (including ones in Thailand, although the $100 you'll drop on a meal at Arun's is nowhere near the value of a 40-cent plate of khao pad from a roadside vendor in Bangkok).)
Ruan Thai Restaurant
11407 Amherst Ave, Silver Spring, MD 20902
2927 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA
3217 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204
Rabieng Thai Restaurant
5892 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041
Duangrat's Thai Restaurant
5878 Leesburg Pike, Falls Church, VA 22041
4156 N Kedzie Ave, Chicago, IL 60618
I've never been to the Dupont Mai Thai location, but the one in Old Town Alexandria is one of the most insipid takes on Thai food I've ever tried--bland, boring food that seems to thrive because of its prime location and its pseudo-hip decor and drinks. I hope the Dupont one is better, but I'd be very surprised if it were.
6 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314
1200 19th St NW, Washington, DC
What a curious post. Vietnamese and Thai food around these parts tends to be a downscale affair. I'm positive cost will not be an issue!
In the Romance is What You Make of It Category, Ruan Thai in Wheaton will allow you to throw caution to the wind and order the watercress appetizer, a bean thread hot pot, the spicy boneless duck and one of the impeccable whole fish entrees. And still get change back from your fifty. Just don't expect any strolling violinists.
Also you can get the private table at Thai X-ing. Well, it's the ONLY table, but you can have the experience of a personal chef cooking for you as long as you don't mind the people traipsing down the stairs to this basement restaurant for their carry-out orders. Amazing tofu soup and red curry salmon.
And then you can go to Eden Center, unique in the US, an entire Vietnamese shopping center with more than 23 Vietnamese restaurants. Tell your sweetie you're in Saigon, you'd never know. Explore the interior hallways, hidden from the street. If you do a search, you'll find plenty of posts about Eden Center.
I'm going to echo Steve here: Romantic atmosphere is not going to be consistent with amazing Vietnamese or Thai or Malasian around here. Duangrat is the closest I know of to romantic atmosphere, but tables are too close together and it is not even close to the best Thai in the region. I'd go to the Eden Center and do the full Vietnamese experience. When the spouse and I had lunch at Eden Center on our anniversary, we decided to roam the inner hallways rather than hit our usual places, but had agreed that some level of ambiance was in order.
That lasted until we got to Cho Cu Saigon, the Chinese Vietnamese restaurant, and its display of roast pig, (not roast pork). With a dual chorused "[fornicate] ambiance, I want the pig!" we entered. The roast pig is excellent; I wasn't as impressed with other dishes there, but you could go in, share a dish of roast pig, and move onwards.
Of the three top places in terms of Thai (Bangkok 54, Thai Square, Ruan) Bangkok 54 actually has atmosphere, but only on the inside of the place.
For Vietnamese, Eden Center is quite an experience in itself. You could also contemplate Nam Viet (search on this board for many many recs there - not a bad thing that I've ever found). With this you could choose the Clarendon location and tool around the new Clarendon or hit Cleveland Park and stroll that area before or after. In either location it's not overly romantic or anything, but it's got a little atmosphere.
I think you should move to another continent and get Ethiopian -- or go to Rasika (Indian, maybe more in the upscale and romantic range you seem to be looking for and good food, if it's something you would like. I do understand that you didn't ask for Indian, so this is just fwiw). Or, yeah, just get out to the burbs to Eden Center -- it's somewhat like Vietnamese parts of Orange County, Calif, if that means anything to you.
(I like Mai Thai, but I strongly suspect it's not what you're looking for. I don't know the rest of the suburban spots well enough to comment....) Oh -- I haven't eaten there, but Simply Home strikes me as romantic....
633 D Street, NW, Washington, DC 20004
I actually noticed Simply Home for the first time last night, and was back in the area around lunchtime today, so I stopped by to try it out. I only got one dish--pad kee mao gai (drunken noodles w/ chicken), which is my default thing to test a new Thai place with--and it was surprisingly good. I did start to regret my choice of dishes, though, when the two-top next to me started raving quite loudly about their bowl of khao soi (Chiang Mai-style curry noodles, which I think are actually a Burmese import but are still damn good when done right); I don't often see that on menus, so I'll have to go back and try it out there.
In terms of the OP's request, I'm not sure that I would call the place romantic so much as "90s urban hipster", with lots of sleek (almost sterile) lines and a (thankfully subtle) techno soundtrack. Prices on the main menu weren't cheap for Thai ($15-20 per entree for most of the interesting dishes), but the lunch specials (including the kee mao that I got) were $10, which was a pretty good value for the amount of food.
1412 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009
I'm partial to Bangkok Garden in Bethesda (or the other location in Columbia MD) in addition to Ruan Thai or Thai Square or BKK54. For Thai noodles Po Siam in northern VA and Thai Derm in Silver Spring, MD.
Though I will echo the others and say great Thai food does not come with a necessarily "romantic" atmosphere. Of course it really depends upon how flexibly you define "romantic" so some of these "awesome Thai food" places may still just squeek by to qualify.
Most places with "authentic amazing" Thai food where the natives go - are usually low end - like good Chinese food (follow the natives!).
As to Vietnamese - definitely Eden Center. Lots of good stuff there (I'm partial to 4 Sisters myself).
If you want the more fusionee / upscale Viet food (though authenticity would be up for debate) - there's Saigonique and I think the owner also has another place the name of which slips my mind at the moment.