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Feb 23, 2010 07:47 AM

Authentic Thai

Hi all,

Just got back from Bangkok and miss the food already. Does anyone know of an authentic Northern or Southern style Thai restaurant in dc/md area?? Would be willing to travel to VA if need be.


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  1. Try Nava Thai and Ruan Thai in Wheaton, and Sabai Sabai Thai in Germantown. Then perhaps the Thai language menu at Bangkok Garden in Bethesda. These are all generally delicious -- not at the level of Sriprapahi in Queens, but close. Not having been to Thailand, however, I can't vouch for authenticity. Please let us know after you've tried them, thanks.

    8 Replies
    1. re: Marty L.

      sorry for the misspelling -- that should be Sripraphai in Queens

      1. re: Marty L.

        Sabai Sabai is excellent and their "street food" section has some unique dishes not found on other area menus. Too bad it's not authentic Thai street food prices!

        1. re: reiflame

          I bet they don't pay authentic Thai street food rent! Do want to try it. Have hear a lot of great things about it.

          1. re: reiflame

            We're planning to visit Sabai Sabai soon with friends. They want to do lunch rather than dinner. Looking at their website, I see a Dinner Menu and a Lunch Specials Menu. The lunch specials menu is significantly shorter than the dinner menu. Do you know if the full dinner menu is available at lunch in addition to the lunch specials? I'd hate to go and be restricted to the lunch specials only. Thanks for any info.

            1. re: foodtrip

              We ordered off the full menu when we went on a weekend lunch.

          2. re: Marty L.

            any recs from the thai language menu at BG?

          3. I have lived in Thailand on two occasions and traveled there several times. I have been disappointed countless times by Thai food in this country. The best I've had in this area are Nava Thai and Ruan Thai as mentioned in the previous post. I would urge you to try both of them. A notch below those would be Thai X-ing, but I really didn't like it well enough to put up with the hassle factor that going there entails. I have never had pad thai or green papaya salad in this country that was anything other than disappointing, so I pretty much have stopped ordering them. Having said all that, I don't have a car, so there are a lot of places in this area that people like that I haven't been able to try. Please report back on your experiences!

            6 Replies
            1. re: woodleyparkhound

              What is the "hassle factor" in going to Thai X-ing?...i've never been there, but i looked it up and it seems to be fairly close to the it a bad area?...or some other reason?...(just curious as i might try to check it out this week)...

              1. re: Simon

                Their hours are limited and unpredictable (on my one trip there, I showed up when they supposedly opened, and someone was there but said that the chef/owner wasn't there yet, so to come back an hour later and maybe he'd be there), the service is slow (it can take an hour to get a simple dish prepared), and the space is TINY (maybe 10 seats total). I also wasn't impressed with the food; Steve on this board insists that I didn't get their best dishes when I went there, but I went with what the chef recommended, and it was nowhere near good enough to justify all of the hassle.

                1. re: sweth

                  On the one occasion a couple of years ago when I went to Thai X-ing, with an out-of-town friend who is a very adventurous eater, I called at about noon to place my order with the guy and to request their one table for 6:00 p.m. (Apparently they have added seating since the time I was there). He said I could have the table, but asked me to call back at 4:30 to place my food order, so I had to plan our sightseeing day around the timing of that call. When I spoke with him a second time, he wasn't able to do one of the dishes that my friend really wanted, which was disappointing. We ordered laarb, red curry salmon, another dish or two that I've forgotten and a pad thai to go. The guy was very nice and friendly. He told me I was welcome to bring my own beer if I wanted. So we needed to shop for beer before going. The restaurant is a few blocks from the Metro station. The neighborhood it's in is a bit dodgy - I was glad we were having an early dinner and wouldn't be walking back to the Metro late at night. We arrived at the appointed time; he was surprised to see us and said he wasn't expecting us until 6:30. (???) So we sat down, had a beer and read the info about the restaurant that was on the walls. Eventually the food starting coming out. Mind you, it's just this one guy doing everything - cooking, talking to people who come in for take-out, running the cash register, etc. so it's understandable why it takes time to get your food - and we were mentally well-prepared for that. We thought the food -- with the exception of the disappointing pad thai -- was very good, especially the salmon. Not mind-blowing, but very good.

                  Now here's where things got interesting. We had read in an article on the wall about a woman from the neighborhood who comes in to help the guy, just because she likes him and his food. This woman we read about came in. After she finished helping him, we started chatting and we invited her to sit down at our table. Eventually, we were joined at the table by the owner himself. This woman turned out to have one of the most fascinating personal stories I've ever heard in my life. We had a WONDERFUL evening with these two that went on for quite some time. It felt like having dinner in someone's home. It's one of the most extraordinary and unforgettable restaurant experiences I've ever had - my friend who was with me is STILL talking about it. One of the things they owner was talking about was his upcoming move to the block of 9th St. that is just north of U. I don't think that move ever occurred (or hasn't occurred yet anyway) - I've often wondered what is happening with that. So - I had a great experience there, but eating there was really a project that required a full day of dedication. Food-wise I think Ruan Thai and Nava Thai are better and are way easier to deal with!

                  Thai X-Ing
                  515 Florida Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001

                  1. re: woodleyparkhound

                    What a great story. What a great experience.

                    The pad thai is pretty bad. But the salmon is heavenly and , for me, worth any hassle factor. I feel perfectly safe in the neighborhood, no matter the time, but not everyone will. I usually find parking within two blocks.

                    The place has been professionalized a bit. Only two tables. I have not experienced any long waits, maybe a function of the fact that he regularly has help now.

                    1. re: woodleyparkhound

                      Thanks for the details and great story...will have to try it sometime...the woman who sat with you and had the amazing life story is Thai?...or someone from the neighborhood?...

                      1. re: Simon

                        Simon - she is a woman from the neighborhood. She moved here from Africa.

              2. Ruan Thai is my favorite. You may have to convince them it make it Thai hot for you. Go for the boneless duck, whole fish, and the watercress dish.

                The Floating Market Noodle Soup at Nava Thai is killer, but I have heard it is not what it used to be. Are you ordering off or asking for the Thai language menus?

                At Thai Square in Arlington, I'd go for the tile fish appetizer, the catfish appetizer, the pig knuckle stew, and off the Thai language menu, the sour curry.

                The red curry salmon at Thai X-ing is great. I also rec the tofu soup and the pad kana.

                In April, you could always try to go to the big Songkran Festival at the Wat on Layhill Rd. in Silver Spring.

                But I can't speak for authenticity.

                6 Replies
                1. re: Steve

                  Thai Cafe in Springfield, Va. 100% authentic and delicious.

                  1. re: Steve

                    Steve, I was just in DC for the weekend and got my usual at Thai Square Sunday night. Has it gone down in quality in the year I have been gone or did I just got an off meal? It didn't have the usual complexity of flavors that I am used to.

                    1. re: sam21479

                      We had a terrible dinner about a year ago and have not been back. Having said this we were there on a Friday night; but Sunday can be risky at a lot of restaurants with staff often taking that day off.

                      1. re: sam21479

                        I think Thai Square has definitely become less reliable in the last year; it can still sometimes be very good, but also sometimes just OK. My faves for Thai in NoVA right now are Sakulthai and Thai Cafe. There are some other places that are hit-or-miss, like the Pasara in Carlyle/Old Town Alexandria--they can do credible authentic Thai, but they also can crank out mediocre Americanized Thai.

                        (See for more on Pasara.


                        For the OP, the best Thai in DC proper (not counting Thai X-ing, which is too much of a logistical pain for me to return to) is probably Kanlaya in Penn Quarter.

                        Since you mentioned Northern & Southern styles--most places in the DC area do central Thai food for the most part.

                        For Northern style food, you may want to check out Simply Home on U St, as they are one of the only places that I know of in the area that has Kao Soi (Chiang Mai style noodles); in general they are more "upscale Americanized" Thai than authentic, though.

                        Duangrat's in Virginia used to do good Isan (northeastern) style food, but I haven't been in years since most of the best dishes they had were Americanized or removed from the menu entirely.

                        Southern Thai food is going to be hard to come by in this area, too, other than Massaman curry (which most places have).

                        1. re: sweth

                          It's funny you mention Simply Home. They actually reopened as "DC Noodles" over a year ago, and I am a big fan. Just went this past Sunday night and had their chicken ginger soup special. Yum. They just have a lot of integrity in what they serve, and there are always nice fresh accents that make the dish delicious. Things are carefully prepared, and the servings are a pretty good size. I've also really enjoyed the noodles in spicy soup. The soy soup was less exciting. I haven't tried any of their non-soup dishes, but they've got a bunch of different pan-fried noodle dishes. I am pretty sure they still have kao soi on the menu, but I'm not 100% on that.

                        2. re: sam21479

                          Thai Square does a few thing very, very well, and that has never changed.

                          The Yum Pla Dook Foo (catfish) and the Yum Pla Krob (tile fish) are masterpieces of taste and texture. The pig knuckle stew is very good. There is a honey duck soup on the Thai language menu that is excellent - as well as the sour curry and the fish maw salad. But some items have always been just boring.

                      2. I would highly recommend Thai Basil in Chantilly (out of the way but definitely worth it for authenticity) - - and Duangrat's and its sister restaurant Rabieng (next door) offer pretty good regional Thai preparations.

                        Bon appetit!

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: dc_foodie_girl

                          Rabieng is my top pick for NOVA. I have a hunch that Sabai Sabai is incredible but just havent made it out there yet. The early buzz combined with whats on their menu combined with the restaurant owners' pedigree seems like an unbeatable combination (the only turnoff is the seemingly high prices).

                          But back to Rabieng....I think its really good if you order well. Some of the stir fries are sort of "generic brown saucy" and a few dishes are too sweet, but overall the flavors seem to be brighter and better than elsewhere (I havent been to the Wheaton places).

                          The chicken galangal soup is good. I also like the cashews with chilies and scallions, the roast pork special with red curry, the chicken panang curry (far better than other places), the shrimp with sator beans, and the desserts (excellent coconut-tapioca pudding).

                          Some of the stuff off the weekend dim sum menu is also great, especially the chili-basil fried rice. Ask and they'll make it during the week. Its one of the great spicy dishes in the area IMO.

                          It probably won't bring you back to Bangkok, but I don't think anything will.

                          Bangkok 54 market in Arlington (NOT the restaurant) caters to a Thai clientele with prepared foods during lunch. The stuff looks "authentic" but honestly its hit and miss for me. The only big winner has been the ka prao minced chicken, which comes with a fried egg, plenty of heat, and plenty of rice. A great dish. I much prefer it to the saucy versions in restaurants that have strips of dried out chicken instead of minced ground chicken.

                          1. re: CoconutMilk

                            Have you tried the Thai street food menu at Rabeing? I believe they have it as a weekend brunch. I heard that at Duangrat (the sister restaurant) they now offer the Thai Street food menu all the time, but I haven't been there in ages.

                            1. re: Steve

                              You have just convinced me to return to Duangrat's after 10 years of not having gone there--Pookie Duangrat briefly had a third restaurant that specialized in Thai street food that I liked a LOT, and if that food is available again, I'll have to take back everything I've said in the last decade about Duangrat's having gone downhill.

                              1. re: sweth

                                Thanks, sweth. Thats good to know. And I suppose I can get a fried egg as well if i just ask. Thats crucial to the dish IMO.

                                Steve/sweth, I dont think the dim sum menu at Rabieng or Duangrats (I believe each has the same one, if not very similar ones) is a street food menu. Its Thai small plates, yes, but not necessarily "Thai street food." I had it about 6 months ago at Rabieng and much of it seemed to be inventions of the chef, like ground chicken in a filo-like shell and duck rolled in flour tortllas. Kinda weird. But there are good dim sum dishes, like the aforementioned chili-basil fried rice, the chive dumplings,some sticky rice with coconut/dried shrimp stuff, and a few others that have slipped my mind. I prefer the regular menu though.

                                1. re: CoconutMilk

                                  If needed: "fried egg" is "kai dao", and "topped with a fried egg with a runny yolk" is "gap kai dao mai sook". (I've found that asking in Thai makes it much more likely that you can get modifications at the more authentic places; even if your pronunciation is bad, they seem to appreciate the effort.)

                            2. re: CoconutMilk

                              FYI, at most of the "authentic" Thai places in the area, you can get the minced chicken version by asking for it with "gai sub".

                              1. re: sweth

                                I don't know that I can vouch for authentic, but I will second Thai Cafe in Springfield, best thai food I've had in this area-I love the gai kapow, nice & spicy, w/ eggplant & peppers...

                          2. I got back from Thailand on Sunday. : ( We love Thai by Thai in Sterling, behind the IHOP on Route 7 (Loudoun County) It's a bit of a hike for you, but if you find yourself heading out to Dulles or surrounding area, this is the place. Excellent food - as authentic as I've had in Northern VA. It is our go-to place. I love the Tom Yum soup, fried fish with crispy basil (occasionally available), the curries, papaya salad is good (I prefer mine usually). I like to try their specials. Had jungle curry off the Thai menu - firey and excellent. The kids love their noodle dishes, i.e. Pad Thai, Drunken Noodles and Pad See Ew. Several years ago had a so-so meal, but not since. Always excellent. You order and pay, and they bring it to your table. Highly recommended.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: guygirl94

                              I wanted to add that the Thai menu at Thai by Thai is available by request and does have English translations. This is also my family's go-to Thai place; we eat there at least twice a month. We generally order primarily off the Thai menu, except for a Pad See Ew for my chowpup. Noodle dishes come out with a nice smoky flavor from the wok, and the pad thai isn't grossly sweet.

                              They do a particularly good job with fried pork. Among our favorite dishes (all from the Thai menu):

                              Fried pork with Chinese Broccoli--tends to be more pork than broccoli, though they can reverse it if you ask for more broccoli and less pork

                              Fried pork with spices --same crispy fried pork belly chunks as the prior dish, only this time in a dry spice rub.

                              Fried pork ribs-- little chunks of pork on rib slivers, served with a truly incendiary dipping sauce.