Soi 38, Downtown

If you read all the reviews in our Soi 38 thread, you’ll notice that they’re 100% positive. There’s a reason for that.

On a Sunday evening, I sallied up to the bar in a relatively empty Soi 38, only to be greeted by a wonderfully friendly server (who looked as if she was doubling as bartender in case any customers came) – it was getting towards Christmas, and many downtown restaurants were fairly empty in the evenings, so for awhile, it was just me at the bar, me and two TVs at this large, delightfully decorated restaurant with extremely friendly and knowledgeable FOH staff. My delightful server, was from Bangkok, and knew Thai food seemingly very well (at one point we began discussing Thai restaurants we enjoy, and she recommended Sawatdee and also, somewhat surprisingly, Thai Square. I asked her if she’d tried Little Serow, and she said no, but it was something she very much wanted to try because she’d heard great things about it (even from her Thai friends). Her name, I believe (and I wouldn’t say this if she wasn’t outstanding in every way), was Mui.

I began with the oh-so-Thai beer Estella Damm ($6) – I’m sorry, I like it! Plus they had a folding sign outside listing that as a happy-hour special (it was a mistake – there were no happy hour specials that evening, but we’re talking two bucks, so no big deal). Then, after sipping my beer for awhile and watching basketball, I ordered an appetizer, an entree, and lunch the next day.

Mee Krob ($7) was just what I wanted to start with. The name literally means “crispy noodles” (visualize medium-thin, white, rice-based noodles that you’d love to eat like potato chips as a snack). These were presented with several lovely shrimp, cooked well enough where I didn’t bother removing the shell, along with a little bit of uncondescending sweet-and-sour sauce (something like a thin, homemade, Indian, <— am I supposed to use the Harvard comma here? tamarind chutney), bits of pork, some beaten egg, thinly sliced shallots, and some jalapeños, onions, etc. as a garnish for the bold and daring. The plate was small, and it might be a better idea (since this should really all be mixed together at some point in the dish) to use a bowl in which to serve it – you don’t want any precious noodles to go plummeting over the edges, nor to be using your finger as a food stop.

About halfway through the Mee Krob, my Kua Kling ($15) arrived (I asked Mui to go ahead and have it fired, and bring it whenever it was ready). She raised an eyebrow when I ordered this, but issued no warnings which I appreciated. Oh damn it was hot. I had never seen this dish before, and had absolutely no idea what to expect; only that it was described as a ¨dried curry,”and I knew it was from the South. It was ground pork, and arrived looking something like this. After one bite, I knew I could only take a few (I wasn’t that hungry to begin with, and also knew that I could doctor it a bit at home). It’s a *great* dish, and I said as much to Mui when she noticed I wasn’t eating much of it – my suggestion is to share it with someone, and eat it with other dishes; not by itself as a stand-alone: You’ll be happy if you do.

To take home for lunch, a Pad See Ew ($14, no lunch discount when you order to go at dinnertime!) with stir-fried pork loin, wide rice noodles, Chinese broccoli, egg, and sweet soy sauce.

Even though I’d ordered quite a bit of food, I hadn’t actually eaten all that much, so a little dessert sounded perfect, and nothing is ever more perfect than Khao Neaw Mamuang ($7), the classic Thai dessert, mango with sticky rice – delicious, sliced fresh mangos (I’d love to know where they got these), served on a plate next to a thin layer of sticky rice, and topped with warm coconut milk, and pinched with sugar and salt – for me, this is the perfect “comfort dessert,” and one which I actually crave sometimes when I’m sitting home and working. There isn’t much unhealthy about it, either. I remember the first time I ever tried this was with Member Number One at Bangkok-Vientiane (which became Bangkok Blues, but used to have an excellent Thai cook as Bangkok-Vientiane). It was “love at first bite” with this dish, and I haven’t stopped loving it – I don’t think it would be possible for me to ever get tired of it, and I would travel to Thailand just to do a culinary tour of this with different, fresh mangos. Gosh, what a vacation that would be.

Lunch the next day was *perfect*. After trying a few nibbles of the excellent Pad See Ew, I dumped the rest of the Kua Kling into it, stirred it altogether, and microwaved it for several minutes. The heat of the Kua Kling complimented the sweet, salty Pad See Ew, and vice-versa – it was a fantastic mixture of flavors, and for those bold enough to experiment like this, I cannot recommend the combination of the two dishes any more than I do. Everything was in balance, and even though I felt like a heathen (this is like mixing Bordeaux and Burgundy), synergy took two very good dishes, and made them into an outstanding one.

Soi 38 is the best Thai food I’ve ever had in DC that wasn’t from Little Serow (I haven’t yet been to Thip Kao). It’s better than anything I’ve had in Maryland except possibly the first dinner I ever had at Sabai Sabai Simply Thai, and in Virginia, only Thai Square from the 90s can approach its level of quality, although the style of cooking is completely different (there was also one amazing dinner the first time I tried the now-closed Burapa Thai in Clarendon). I’m certainly not trying to play the silly game of “ranking” these restaurants against each other; merely suggesting that we have a major Thai restaurant on our hands with Soi 38, one which you’ll like, and might just love.

And thank you very much, Mui, for a lovely meal.

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