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who has best thai "drunken noodles" in nova or dc?

if anyone remembers pan-asian noodle house on vermont (or its sister restaurant on p street near dupont circle), you will remember the very best "drunken noodles" and "pad see eew" -- savory sauces, good wok char on the fresh wide rice noodles, nice vinegar and chile condiments.... (good mai tais, too).

my best so far is at thai square, and i get them to grind the chicken and jack up the wok. i love to eat it alongside som tum, which is also outstanding at thai square.

who makes the best today? (must be the fresh wide rice noodles, with a good wok char, please!)

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  1. My favorite is the drunken noodles with tilapia at the Thai place on North Royal Street in Old Town (Royal Thai?). They're in the same complex as AlaLucia.

    1. Yep, I used to work around the corner from the place on Vermont. First place I every had Drunken Noodles. Though my favorite today is at Paya Thai in (Tysons). One of my staples there. Always nice and spicy, thick chewy noodles with lots o' wok char.

      11 Replies
      1. re: Meg

        wasn't it awesome?! it was my intro too! i got my niece, "flimflam" hooked on them, as well (she worked around the corner!) she too laments the lack of any acceptable substitute.

        meg, does paya thai give a good wok char on the noodle? i went there years ago, but wasn't that impressed. maybe it is time for another go!

        1. re: alkapal

          yep, lots of dark wok char througout.

          1. re: alkapal

            Can you describe "wok char" to me? I had drunken noodles at Paya Thai over the weekend and was on the lookout for this characteristic since it seems to be what comes up when people describe a particularly good execution of the dish. If it's darkened streaks or edges on the noodle pieces, then this didn't have it. But there was kind of an overall smoky flavor that came through and I rather enjoyed it.

            Does anyone know what's "drunken" about drunken noodles? I doubt there's any alcohol involved. Perhaps it's a description of what the characters in the native alphabet look like (like Chinese OO soup)? Or maybe an attempt at translation?

            1. re: MikeR

              mike -- wok char = caramelized, lightly charred fresh wide rice noodles (mostly on the edges, but not precluding other "high points" on the noodle.

              drunken = prepared for those who'd been out on the town.. the spiciness to perk them up. recipe: http://www.internationalrecipes.net/r...

              i went to paya thai on saturday night around 8-ish. very sparsely populated (4-5 other tables, in a sea of tables

              )

              crispy "flounder" wasn't a flounder, unless they're now growing flounders with 2 fleshy sides. chili sauce was good, fish was overcooked.

              i got drunken noodles, asking for wok char AND for them to grind the chicken. i also asked for good spiciness.

              i got wok char, ground chicken, heavy sauciness that was like extra sauce was used to get some "char". it was a bit salty, but not so much that i would have sent it back. spicy with the thai chilis, and some thai basil. not a lot of slivered onion or red bell pepper. noodle quality was excellent. overall, pretty darn good. i will try to get them to adjust sauce next time.

              the young waitress was inexperienced and spoke poor english (and i had to describe wok char, and describe ground or "minced" chicken) so maybe communicating preferences might be easier with a different waitress next time. (i figured they do larb, right? i wanted the meat like that. maybe that's how i'll approach it in the future, "like larb meat")

              duck salad appetizer was a *huge* disappointment. very small amount of actual duck slices -- more skin and scraps -- and then not much. good sauce, but that could not save this dish. the best duck salad i've had is at bangkok siam on glebe, near pershing (and ravi kabob). i haven't been there for years, though, cause parking is so difficult.

              bottom line: i'll go back to paya thai at lunchtime. give the noodles another try. other dishes, not impressed.

              1. re: alkapal

                Thanks for the report. Though sorry to hear you had a less than stellar meal. I haven't been in a while and hope they're not going down hill! We often get Drunken Noodles for carry out and I remember lots of dark streaks and wok char (and always alot of heat). Never had the flounder. Always get the Spicy Red Snapper and have never been disappointed. My favorite app, next to their house salad which comes with tofu chunks, is the BBQ Pork. Delectable chunks of grilled pork with a spicy chile and cilantro sauce.

                I'm always amazed at how quiet the restaurant is. Though I know they do a great deal of carry out and delivery.

                1. re: alkapal

                  Well, I didn't really notice any dark streaks or spots on these noodles, and actually three of us at the table had the dish (one chicken, one pork, one beef) and I didn't see any char on other plates either. It was very tasty, though, and for me, that's more important than if it was "authentic." Though maybe some other time, it'll be charred and I'll like it better.

                  I've never been there when there's been a server who spoke good English. I guess it adds to the authenticity. <g>

                  1. re: MikeR

                    meg, yes we saw lots of takeout. maybe will give snapper a try. is it a chili garlic sauce? have you had the ginger sauce?

                    mike, i don't know if wok char is necessarily authentic, but that was my initiation, and it tastes the best to me in savory depth of flavor. thanks for other menu tips.

                    what was evaluation of pork vs. beef vs. chicken meats: quality, flavor, tenderness, freshness, juiciness?

                    and here is another slightly different recipe: http://importfood.com/recipes/drunkno...

                    1. re: alkapal

                      Alkapal,

                      The snapper is in the red chili paste sauce with green beans.

                      I've had many dishes over the years with pork, beef and chicken. In my experience their meat is always high quality, tender and never fatty.

                      1. re: alkapal

                        I've had the drunken noodles with pork at Paya before (and this time too) and it was reasonably tender and flavorful. I've had the chicken in the past and it turned out to be kind of dry. The beef eater of the group always has beef and would be happy to eat shoe leather as long as he didn't have to eat chicken.

                        1. re: MikeR

                          i went to paya thai again yesterday for lunch.

                          the waitress suggested two things that should help "shorten" my order "description/explanation":

                          1. order "minced chicken ( -- "like larb")" (neither time has the ground chicken been dry, esp. cf. with the typical thai resto's dry-ish chicken breast slices!); and

                          2. order "well-done".

                          this time, the sauciness was less (so it was lighter in taste, and a little less salty.) was better than the first time having the dish, described above. i did add at table some of the chiles in fish sauce, and the chiles in vinegar -- mostly just the liquid, with no chiles. the dish had enough chiles. i must say, it is a generous portion, esp. considering the amount of chicken. (maybe they don't just mince breast meat....which is fine by me; it tastes good!)

                          i also got som tum. small-ish, but cheaper than thai square. however, i could tell it was not fresh that day. the sauce was somewhat bitter from lime juice that isn't fresh squeezed (i know, as i've kept som tum in fridge before for a couple of days -- when i've made it....). i added a little sprinkle of sugar to adjust the sauce. but the real problem was the green papaya. it was a little dessicated from a day or two in the fridge. bottom line: it was not fresh. i would not get it again. maybe it was an off day, but i know where i can get great som tum, so...."meh".

                          drunken noodles 2 for 2.
                          other stuff, 0 for 3.

                          <sigh>

                          ps, last evening, we ate at nam-viet (arlington) and got the special grill platter with chick, beef, pork, and shrimp: excellent value at $15, served with rice noodles or rice. also got the special seafood stir-fry noodles (lump crabmeat, scallops, squid, shrimp.) the seafood was very fresh and again, the dish was an excellent value at $15. the pho at the next table looked superb. the menu is quite extensive -- pho and otherwise. next time, i want to try the pho or other soups. the "large" size was massive and looked chock full -- at @ $7.50!! (that's a great value when the hole-in-the-wall places charge around the same price!!) they also offer "small" soup/pho at @ $4.75.

                          the cha gio (crispy spring rolls) looked like they were reheated/fried in oil, perhaps originally prepared at lunchtime -- a little greasy, but with a tasty filling. (we were the first customers at around 5:45, so i'm thinking this was a reason (but *not* an excuse, by any means) for the *re-fried* spring rolls). so, the spring rolls were the one gaffe of dinner overall.

                          vietnamese "33" beer was really nice and cold. 'twas a little pricey at $4.25, but, hey, the food is so reasonable, it works out. (they offer sapporo and french fischer amber in larger bottles for $5.50. that might be the beer order on the next trip). vietnamese-style iced coffee was FANTASTIC. better than dessert -- and a great value at $3.

                          btw, we were too early for seating there, but they have a nice outdoor dining area which looks like it might get really busy a little later during the dinner (and afterwards) service. it was located on hudson street, so there is not too much traffic at all. quite nice!

                          1. re: MikeR

                            mikeR, the minced chicken doesn't "dry" out like the breast slices.

              2. My favorite - Drunken Duck Noodles - never disappoints at Duangrat's, in Bailey's Crossroads.

                http://www.duangrats.com/menu.html

                4 Replies
                1. re: Atlantis

                  aah, i need to go back to duangrat's -- it has been years! we go to raaga all the time, and were wondering what the status of the food was at duangrat's these days. same with its little sister around the corner, rabieng.

                  looking at the menu, are the portions larger than most places? cause the prices are higher by 3 bucks even over thai square, which is generally over 2 dollars more than other thai places....

                  in fact, most of their dishes are really much more expensive. i take it you consider it worth every penny, or you wouldn't have said so....

                  1. re: alkapal

                    Skip duangrat's and just go to Rabieng. While I can't speak for the drunken noodles, everything I've had there has been incredible and mostly cheap. The thai dim sum on weekends is tempting and a bargain, but then you would miss the succulent roast pork in red curry with rambutans and pineapple (the best red curry i've ever had). Other good dishes are the panang curry, basil fried rice (i know, fried rice at a thai restaurant usually isnt a good dish, but this is!). Just about everything is a sure bet.

                    If you go there on a saturday for lunch, head over to the thai market next door. They sell homemade thai desserts (lots of stuff with coconut milk and sugar) and other little tasty bites on saturday mornings.

                    1. re: alkapal

                      Yeah, their portions are huge. And yeah, I do consider it money well spent. The menu at Rabieng, while similar to Duangrat's, is not quite the same. For instance, the drunken duck noodles that I love at Duangrat's are not available at Rabieng. Chicken and vegetable, yes, but not duck. There are more choices at Duangrat's, and, personally, I find the ambience of Duangrat's more appealing. That said, the weekend dim sum at Rabieng is great fun, and, if you go grocery shopping at the Duangrat Market next door to Rabieng, ask the folks there what you should order for lunch. Their suggestions, always delivered enthusiastically, are fascinating and educational.

                      1. re: Atlantis

                        Well Rabieng and Duangrats are owned by the same people....they offer different type of Thai food. Duangrats is what you expect to get from any thai restaurant but better tasting and Rabieng offers other thai dish you get from every thai restaurant but I have to agree. I think the best Drunken noodle is from Duangrats Duck drunken noodles.

                  2. thai by thai in sterling. absolutely perfect.

                    1. Thai Luang in Herndon. Delicious!

                      1. love your replies. pleeeeease tell me *why* the dishes are the best, according to my picky criteria.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: alkapal

                          plenty of wok char, they're completely authentic and incredibly spicy. Where you have to ask for thai condiments at most places, they're on the table to thai by thai. The place is easily doing the best thai in the DC area at this point.

                        2. you guys are all giving me hope. i'll design a drunken noodles "circuit!"

                          thai by thai in sterling: http://www.thai-by-thai.com/
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/411167

                          thai luang in herndon: http://www.thailuang.com/

                          paya thai in vienna/tysons: (site won't load

                          )

                          duangrats/rabieng in falls church: http://www.duangrats.com/

                          thailand, royal street, in old town alexandria: http://www.thailandroyalst.com/

                          1. I have not tried drunken noodles from Sakulthai, but the other noodle dishes I've had so far were all superb. What I've had so far: Rad Nah (excellent - smoky flavor in the noodles, crispy Chinese Broccoli, and not sweet -- better than Rabieng's which I consider still a tad to the sweet side), Pad See Eew (same as Rad Nah, emphasis on not overly sweet), Boat Noodles (if you know what this one is, this is the best in the area and a must).

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: brooke

                              sakulthai, in alexandria: http://www.sakulthai.us/

                            2. bangkok 54 on columbia pike in arlington is generally the best thai food i've had around these parts. delicious drunken noodles, everything else is fantastic too and the prices are good. give it a try

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: littlew1ng

                                i haven't been there in years. last time, we weren't impressed. maybe it is time to give it another chance.

                                1. re: alkapal

                                  you should definitely try bangkok 54. It is the most consistent thai place in the area ( though it doesn't have the same WOW dishes as Rabieng). i've never had a bad meal there.

                                  1. re: CoconutMilk

                                    i haven't been in several years. i'll have to try it again. the first and only time we went, we weren't raving.

                                    1. re: alkapal

                                      I get the Pad See Ew at Bangkok 54 frequently. The noodles always have an excellent char and the overall taste is fantastic.

                                      1. re: maoj

                                        hmmm, verrrry encouraging. i guess they're not open for breakfast? ;-).

                              2. well, between paya thai and thai square, paya thai takes it! (and i am ONE PICKY drunken noodles fanatic!).

                                now...on to the other restos on the "circuit"!

                                4 Replies
                                1. re: alkapal

                                  Just to throw an odd candidate into the hopper, Joe's Noodle House (yes, Chinese) does a drunken noodles that I like very much. It is not necessarily a traditional Thai-type preparation, but it is along the right lines and it is very good. And of course one has the added benefit of eating many other great dishes while there.

                                  1. re: alkapal

                                    (Chiming in late because issues w/ Bloglines meant I didn't see any Chowhound posts for the last few weeks... anyone else have this problem?)

                                    As it happens, I was recently revisiting a bunch of Alexandria Thai places, and kee mao gai is my default order when comparing Thai restaurants, so I may be able to help with your circuit:

                                    * Masaya (in Old Town) had a solid kee mao, but it didn't meet your criteria: chicken wasn't minced, and no char. (For those who care, though: they do now have Beer Chang, which I didn't think you could get outside of Thailand.)

                                    * Mai Thai (in Old Town) was surprisingly good; I was underwhelmed the first few times I went there (after it had just opened), but I may have to add it back into the rotation. The chicken wasn't minced, but they did have at least some char and the flavors were good, so I suspect that they could produce your desired version pretty well.

                                    * Mai Tai's renaissance lured me into also revisiting Thai Old Town, which I now regret: TOT continues to be one of the most insipid Thai restaurants in the area, with a bland watery kee mao w/ dry tasteless chicken. I want my $10 and 30 minutes of my life back, please.

                                    * Thailand Royal St was also good, but w/ regular chicken and just a hint of char; they did have a special while I was there that appeared to be one of their regular chicken dishes made with minced chicken, though, so they at least get the two key concepts, meaning their kee mao may be alkapalable on request.

                                    * Sakulthai's kee mao was very good, but with no char and no minced chicken, and there are too many other good dishes that they have that I can't easily get elsewhere in Alexandria to make me contemplate returning for a second round of kee mao.

                                    It's been a while since I've had kee mao at Paya Thai, but I do have fond memories of it, so I don't know that I'd recommend any of the places above over P.T. for that particular dish.

                                    -----
                                    Masaya Thai Cuisine
                                    1019 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314

                                    Thailand Royal St
                                    320 Montgomery St, Alexandria, VA 22314

                                    Sakulthai
                                    408 S Van Dorn St, Alexandria, VA 22304

                                    Thai Old Town Restaurant
                                    300 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314

                                    1. re: sweth

                                      thanks. hope your next kee mao is perfectly swethable! ;-)

                                      1. re: sweth

                                        I have to agree with you about TOT. I was there a couple of weeks ago, and while I really wanted to like it ... the dishes I had were very ordinary and bland.

                                    2. at paya thai on sunday, around 12:30 (LUNCH), i was the only person eating there the whole time. there were 2 takeout order pick-ups. sad.

                                      anyhow, they have thai "hot pot" now, but i was alone so didn't order it. looked like it would be fun with the little induction burners built in to the booth tabletops. a little strange if you're not getting hotpot, though, because the ceramic area displaces the areas where you'd normally have food plates. (so if you're not getting hotpot, you might want to skip a booth seating.)

                                      the minced beef kee mao was not as good as the minced chicken. and it was a bit off the regular seasoning. maybe it was a different chef. still good, but not perfect.

                                      3 Replies
                                      1. re: alkapal

                                        drunken noodles with minced chicken at paya thai last sunday: not good. this place is so inconsistent. ;-(. at least thai square is consistent. not brilliant, but very good. next, i'm getting over to duangarats for the duck drunken noodles.

                                        1. re: alkapal

                                          Duck drunken noodles? Yum ... have you had them before? I was just at Rabieng last weekend (and the weekend before that, actually), but I haven't made it around the corner to Duangrat's yet.

                                          1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                                            kt, read upthread; there are raves for the duck! i haven't tried it yet.

                                      2. Visit "THAI LUANG" and try Thai spice( Spice levels: Mild, Medium, American, Thai) - Drunken Noodles. Its out of this world..I'm sure you'll remember my name next day morning. No kidding!

                                        If any of you can decode the recipe please post it in this blog.
                                        cheers

                                        3 Replies
                                        1. re: MyAssOnFire

                                          maof: thanks for the deep-seated recommendation!

                                          1. re: MyAssOnFire

                                            You're as good as anyone to pose this question to. For those people who can eat very hot food, does it still set your butt on fire the next day? I'm just wondering if your ass ever adjusts to the heat.

                                            1. re: Ericandblueboy

                                              maof had to get back over to the restaurant. ;-).

                                          2. The best so far is at Duangrat's with the Drunken Noodle Duck....best i've had outside of Thailand. Rabieng...do not approve...lol... wok chared and wide rice noodles...

                                            1 Reply
                                            1. re: vafoodie86

                                              i think wok char is not considered correct, but i love it! maybe my" standard" noodle was a little more wok-charred (pan asian noodle house in the days of yore) because we asked them to cut down on the oil that they used to stir fry.