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Bangkok 54 in Arlington Review

I have recently discovered this place. I am very happy to finally find a place that delivers to me in Ballston that is good. I have always wanted to enjoy Thai food, but I have not eaten it that often due to the fact that I have never found it made well. I have tried dozens of places where they pre-boil the meat and toss it in a sauce that the restaurant is not capable of spicing correctly or tom yum soup that tastes the same in every Thai place because they don't make the stock, but buy the same paste that I can buy.

I tried Thai Square and enjoyed a couple dishes (crispy squid, market soup, pig feet stew), but they have horrible parking and do not deliver, so I had given up until I saw someone mention Bangkok 54 here. So here it is from three visits over the last couple weeks:

Green papaya salad, thai hot was excellent. It had all my favorite things in it and was spicy. The owner said it was too spicy for her, but I could have had more spice.

Larb. Thai hot. Not as spicy when it hit the table, but delicious and simple and flavorful. I would have liked it spicier and I would have prefered that there was a pile of manageable lettuce/cabbage to wrap the chicken in, the way they served it was on a bed of lettuce which made it messy and difficult to manage. I am not 100% on what is traditional.

Tom yum. Homemade. Delicious. Sour. Spicy. Lots of mushrooms. Lots of lemongrass. Best that I have tasted.

Green curry. Thai hot. A little spicy, but delicious. I think the eggplant were a bit undercooked, but that was better than them being mushy.

PORKY BELLY WITH GREEN BEANS!!!!!! OMG. I have had this twice now. It comes in a sweet and slightly sour chili paste. They have told me that they can't make it spicier which would take this dish from a 9 to a 10+.

Deep fried tofu with chili sauce. I am not a fan of tofu (or vegetarianism in general ;P) but a veg friend ordered this and I couldn't believe how good it was. Delicious chili and vinegar sauce which is slightly sweet. Crispy and good.

Lastly, (and you aren't gonna believe this one) excellent homemade cheesecake in mango sauce. Next time I will skip the mango sauce. The cheesecake may be the best I have had in the DC area.

Additionally, there is a Thai grocery store attached. A lot of similar things in general, but the delightful frisson was the deli. They make a lot more Thai-centric foods in there that I have never seen in restaurants. I bought a sour soup with bamboo and shrimp and a sour shrimp curry. They also have about four chili pastes that are made in house (the really dark red one is the hottest). They have hot foods and cold foods (papaya salad!). And sweets too!



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  1. i've long been a fan of bangkok 54, especially the grocer next door.

    i actually prefer to grab lunch items there as opposed to at the restaurant...particularly the ground chicken kaprao with rice and a fried egg. the desserts are noteworthy as well...its all pretty good.

    also its my go-to spot for fresh rice noodles, shrimp paste, thai basil,holy basil, kaffir lime, and other thai cooking staples.

    1. I haven't been there in a long time, but I have always enjoyed it. Maybe time to back....

      1. oooh, papaya salad ready to go in the market? yay!
        thanks for the report, sekelman.

        1. Used to live within walking distance of this great place, and sadly took it for granted while I lived in the area!!

          LOVE all their "crispy fried ____" dishes, but the tofu is definitely my favorite. No one does anything close to it that I've found. Why go to others and hope they can do it right when I already know a place that does it perfectly, right? Heh.

          Their fried rices and other basic dishes are good, too. Yellow coconut curry is a bit sweet, but still good and flavorful. Love their vegetable dishes (even though I am not veggie). Will have to try their pork belly one day, but I rarely get to go anymore and am definitely out of their delivery range!

          Love the grocery store and their ready-made food, too! They usually have fried taro/banana/plaintain at the cash register. 3 pieces for $1. I usually get around $3 worth and eat it throughout the entire day (late breakfast to dinner). Sooooooo good. You'd think fried food wouldn't be good at room temp, but these are definitely worth it! And you can always heat up a bit in the oven if you want.

          I have to take metro + bus to get there now, but this thread is making me want to go there NOW!

          8 Replies
          1. re: yfunk3

            I have not been to Bangkok 54 in several years. My last visit to Thai Square was so bad that I haven't returned-it's been two years. Having said this I like Thai Luang on Elden street in Herndon so much that whenever Thai food comes up for discussion we cannot go anywhere else. http://www.thailuang.com/dinner.htm
            Please choose spicy level: Mild, Medium, American, Thai.

            1. re: Joe H

              Thanks Joe. I will try to hit it this weekend.

              1. re: Joe H

                Agree on the food at Luang, but the last 2 or 3 times I had deplorable service.

                Tarin Thai is our primary go-to, even before my recent boycott of Luang.

                Today I had a nice lunch at Three Thai Sushi, especially their Tom Yum.

                1. re: Joe H

                  Thai by Thai on Route 7 in Sterling, same plaza as the Grand Mart, has a secret Thai menu. It is an order at the counter, food brought to your table sort of place, though the interior is a bit more upscale than a typical lunchonette. We are huge fans of the chinese broccoli with crispy pork, the crispy fried pork ribs, the pad see eew (with properly charred noodles!), and whatever the monthly specials happen to be. They have a lot of street-type foods on the Thai menu, and the monthly specials tend to be Thai dishes that you won't find on every Thai menu in America.

                  We haven't been back to Thai Luang since discovering Thai by Thai. We've been back to Tarin a few times, and their menu is a bit more extensive, but Thai by Thai's food is more addictive.

                  1. re: PollyG

                    I meant to mention Thai by Thai. I think I did in my first post and the site wasn't taking it properly. Anyway - I finally made it an I like it, too. Of the four now mention, Luang is now my least favorite (with Busara not being worth mentioning).

                    Polly - if you get to 3 Thai Sushi, try their veggie Tom Yum. Oh, Man!

                    1. re: Dennis S

                      Has anyone tried any of the "wild" dishes at Thai Luang? They are excellent.

                      1. re: Joe H

                        That's the general dish I seek out. Prefer the version at Tarin: Pad Peh Pah.

                        1. re: Dennis S

                          Assuming you mean Pad Ped Pah, Sakulthai does a very nice one as well.

              2. Thanks for the review. Bangkok 54 is good.

                FYI, Thai Square DOES deliver.

                1. Thanks for all the suggestions. I wanted to share my sour curry experience because I am rarely beat by a food, it may be the first one in fact.

                  So I bought the Sour Bamboo Curry at the Bangkok 54 deli. I was told that it was spicy and sour, things I like. What I wasn't told was how fermented/rotten/umame it was. It had an intensely fermented smell and taste. I could only take two bites. It was just too much. Here was the ingredient list maybe someone knows what was the ingredient that was so "fermented".

                  Shrimp, yellow sour curry, sour bamboo, chili, tamarind.


                  4 Replies
                  1. re: sekelmaan

                    some things at the market are definitely too pungent for my western palette as well. i recall a bad experience with a fermented fish paste chili dip type thing. hit and miss.

                    1. re: sekelmaan

                      While Taiwanese Smelly Tofy defeats me, the sour beans and the fermented sour bamboo are music to my tongue! But it is odd stuff!

                      In any case, fish sauce was traditionally made by digging a hole int hebeach at seasonal high tide and catching the surf fish. Then you covered it, weighted it with rock and waited till the next high tide. You opened the pit, standing upwind from it, and scooped out the solid mass which is used to season rice, soups or kill your enemy. I believe itis called blachang is some languages of the South Pacifis and fermented fish pastes of today are pale versions of it. The remianing liquid was strained and voila, fish sauce!

                      The odd smelling bean or stinky bean dishes at Bangkok 54 are great to order because no one wants to share them with me and I get to taste everyone elses' stuff! No wonder my nickname used to be Machiavelli!

                      I can't think of why we ahve not been to B54 is ages. Our last meal there was superb. And we have not experienced the slide reported on Thai Square. I guess its just too close to Honey pig and our other Korean haunts.

                      1. re: deangold

                        All I thought about was stinky tofu and that it probably would have the same effect on me. I was also under the impression that they still made fish sauce that way. I thought I saw one of the travel channel guys doing a tour of a place in Vietnam that was still burying pots in fields. But that wasn't what was fermented, right? The bamboo shoots were, no?

                        1. re: sekelmaan

                          I am sure that there are still folk making fish sauce the old fashioned way. But I am also sure that the big kids are making it industrially.

                          The sour curry could have had a fermented paste in it or it could have been the bamboo shoots. I would put my money on a fermented fish or shrimp paste in the curry as more likely to have that kind of smell. sour bamboo shoots are a little pungent but usually more intensly sour than "rotten" smelling. But you never know!

                    2. yesterday i had two dishes at bangkok 54 ("b54") that i had just last week at thai square ("ts"), pad kee mao with chicken and seafood salad appetizer. here's my compare and contrast on the two restaurants' versions of each dish.

                      pad kee mao:

                      1. the amount on the plate at lunch is about the same. a weekday price (lunch special) is available at b54 -- $6.50. no lunch special prices at ts -- so dish is about $9.50, iirc.

                      2. b54 would not give me minced chicken (only sliced, but it was tender, though not real plentiful vs. ts), ts does do an off-menu mince of the chicken when i ask.

                      3. i forgot to ask for good wok char at b54, so i can't opine. ts tries, and typically succeeds.

                      4. overall, the b54 version is too sweet.

                      5. condiments at b54 include garlic chili paste, which helped amp up the flavor and cut the sweetness. i wish ts offered this condiment with their spice tray.

                      6. while the waitress asked if i wanted it spicy or not, i replied that i liked it "very spicy." the dish was barely spicy at all. it had maybe two or three small split green chilies.

                      in my book, thai square wins on the kee mao front.
                      seafood salad:

                      1. b54 offering was at least 1/3 smaller than thai square's at the same price @ $9.50.

                      2. ts salad had mostly squid, but two (maybe three) shrimp and two large scallops. b54's had mostly squid, one shrimp, one medium scallop, two mussels that seems really quite (too) firm (as if a little overdone -- or done too far in advance).

                      3. b54's squid was cut smaller and was cooked just to tender. thai square's squid was in larger cuts and chewier. squid-wise, b54 wins, hands down.

                      4. ironically, the seafood salad at b54 was hotter than the kee mao. the seafood salad dressing was not as sweet as that (marginally, only) of thai square. b54's salad had lots of nice bits of fresh chilies of all colors, red onions, good lime kick. well balanced.

                      5. the b54 version had lots of filler lettuce; ts had a lot more seafood.

                      overall -- thai square's is a better deal, because it has more of the seafood i like; however, b54 has a better dressing, to my taste.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: alkapal

                        I agree on the Kee Mao, at least. However, I have had the fish sauce plate (with the spices, etc) at b54.

                        If you haven't yet, try the spicy squid salad appetizer/salad at ts. It's sort of like larb gai on steroids.

                        1. re: alkapal

                          Thanks for such a thorough compare and contrast!

                          Off menu (on the Thai language menu) at Thai Square, the Sour Curry and the Duck Noodle Soup are very good.

                          Thai Square
                          3217 Columbia Pike, Arlington, VA 22204