The best Thai restaurants in Washington, DC

Tyler Cowen ((Cowen is an economics professor at George Mason University and blogs at Marginal Revolution.)) has recently updated his amazingly comprehensive Washington, DC Ethnic Dining Guide, in which he lists the city’s best international restaurants.

A few Thai restaurants that Cowen lists under “Some Places You Must Try” — regardless of cuisine — caught my eye.

First, there’s a place called Thai X-ing, which is located a few blocks from where I used to live, in DC’s Ledroit Park neighborhood. I have a vivid memory of stumbling upon this tiny establishment in 2005. It’s excellent. Here’s what Cowen says:

Thai X-ing, 515 Florida Ave., 202-332-4322, no lunch,

All take-out, but this place is becoming legendary. One table, four chairs. One guy cooks for you. You need to call in your order in advance. The drunken noodles and the curries are superb. The salmon is awesome, the larb too. Quirky décor, mostly designed by the chef/owner. Here is one good review: Here is the menu: Patrons are advised to call in advance to avoid long waits.

And second, there’s Ruan Thai. I haven’t eaten here, but coincidentally, I met a Thai family in DC when I was there in April and they told me it was their personal favorite Thai restaurant in the metro area. Here’s Cowen:

Ruan Thai, 11407 Amherst Ave., Wheaton, 301-942-0075, not so far from Rt.29 and University Blvd.

My Thai restaurant of choice in Maryland. Not just the usual stuff. Fresh ingredients, and truly spicy. When it comes to ordering, you can’t go wrong. This place is exactly what a Thai restaurant should aspire to be.

And finally, I am less enthusiastic about Duangrats. I know people who swear by it, but I find the somewhat upscale atmosphere at odds with what I consider to be the true nature of Thai food as it’s typically consumed here: that is, in an informal setting (often eaten in the street or purchased from food vendors and taken home):

Duangrat’s, 5878 Leesburg Pike, Bailey’s Crossroads, 820-5775, usually open.

Gourmet Thai at reasonable prices. The ruling mainstream Thai restaurant in this area. There is another branch of the same restaurant, with a slightly different menu, right next door, called Rabieng’s. Has more modern decor than Duangrat’s, but fewer offerings, although I am told you can still order off the Duangrat’s menu. It used to be that every dish here was great, then for a while it turned spottier. Now it has been reinvigorated. It remains not fully consistent but the best dishes are better than ever and the menu is more innovative than ever before. The weekend “Thai tapas” are especially fun. Go, and go often.

Bonus commentary: several years ago, upon suffering a hankering for Ecuadorian food, I ventured to La Choza Grill, Cowen’s only entry under Ecuadorian cuisine:

La Choza Grill, 8558 Lee Highway, Merrifield, 1/2 mile west of Gallows, 560-1192.

I like the Seco (lamb stew with rice and potatoes) as well. They’ve added some Mexican dishes to the menu since I have been here last, which is probably a step backwards. But it is still the same owner, and if you live in the immediate area, you will find yourself coming back here.

I found the food to be mediocre (insert joke about Ecuadorian cuisine here). And if memory serves, the restaurant didn’t have my favorite Ecuadorian beer ((Much less Zhumir, Ecuador’s local firewater.)), Pilsener)). So I had to settle for a Pacena, a brew from Bolivia. (Don’t tell my Ecuadorian friends.)


Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker on The Splended Table

If you’re in America’s Pacific Northwest and you like Southeast Asian food — specifically Thai cuisine — then you’ve got to make your way to Pok Pok Whiskey Soda Lounge. That’s the name of Andy Ricker’s restaurant in Portland, Oregon. I haven’t been there, but it sounds like my kind of place: simple, savory Thai food served in a casual atmosphere.

Pok Pok isn’t a conventional Thai restaurant like you’d usually find in the US. It’s a “food garden” with indoor and outdoor seating. And the menu doesn’t include Thai staples that are common in the West, like pad thai and green chicken curry, but rather regional food from Thailand’s north and northeast. Pok Pok was voted The Oregonian‘s 2007 restaurant of the year. (Click here for a YouTube video tour of Pok Pok compliments of the Oregonian.)

Owner Andy Ricker — who learned about Thai cuisine during his travels here — was recently interviewed by Lynne Rossetto Kasper for the excellent Splendid Table radio show. You can find the episode here, and here’s a direct link to the mp3.

The segment starts at 14 min., 40 sec. and goes to about 24 min.

(Thanks to Austin Bush — an Oregonian who knows a thing or two about Thai food himself — for the link.)