Restaurant Review – Soi 38 in Washington, D.C.:

Soi 38, on L & 21st St NW, is bringing authentic Thai street food to Washington, D.C. Owners Nat Ongsangkoon and Dia Khanthongthip hail from Bangkok, and named their restaurant for the popular night market in their native city. With additional inspiration from chef Mitchai Pankham, who hails from northern Thailand, Soi 38 showcases Thai food above and beyond what your average chain spot has on the menu. The Thai food here is authentic, fresh and fun, bursting with flavor and bringing classics to life.

The menu at Soi 38 was recently redesigned, allowing you to choose your experience, either staying in your comfort zone or exploring a more unique and inspired collection of dishes. After moving through your starters and soups, the rest of the menu breaks up into several categories, starting with the familiar Thai food most Americans know — look for your Pad Thai here. The second section kicks things up with some diversity, and finally a third section offers a range of more authentic Thai dishes you may not be familiar with at all.

Consider the three categories a Basic 101, Intermediate, and Advanced series of courses on Thai cuisine. And with food this good, you’ll want to be sure you attend class regularly and diligently do your homework.

Try the Prik Tod, chicken and shrimp stuffed fried serrano chiles, served with a creamy sriracha dip. The heat from the serrano carries through each bite without overpowering or blasting out the other flavors, making for a craveable starter or snack. Another standout was the Ped Roti, featuring flavorful slow-roasted duck wrapped in a savory, soft roti shell and served with several dipping sauces.

Don’t pass on their soups, such the Tom Ka Gai, or Khao Soi, a spicy and delectable curry soup with coconut milk and chile, served with wide egg noodles, topped with crunchy noodles, and featuring tender chicken drumsticks. I’ve had dozens of Thai-style curry soups, and none matched this. The richness and complexity of the flavors in every spoonful were phenomenal — you won’t be blamed for wanting to lick the bowl or order a second round.

For your entree, consider either the Pla Neung Manow, the whole steamed catch of the day, wrapped in banana leaves to retain moisture and stuffed with lemongrass, chili, garlic, or the Pla Rad Prik, whole fried catch of the day, served with Thai spicy chili sauce and jasmine rice.

There are dozens of other dishes to try, and nothing I sampled disappointed. Even simple combinations of classic Thai ingredients – fresh shrimp, garlic, fish sauce, chile, lime – managed to be packed with flavor, jumping off the plate with crisp, fresh taste.

You’ll also find a series of fun cocktails on the menu. This includes twists on classics, such as the Matcha Green Tea Old Fashioned, or the Thai Manhattan. Some cocktails draw inspiration from Thai dishes, like the Som Tum Sling, modeled after Som Tum green papaya salad, while others draw inspiration from a locale, such as the Koh Pi Pi Daiquiri, made to whisk you away to the picturesque island. The Manhattan and Old Fashioned are served in individual bottles, tagged with their ingredients, while a drink such as Emperor’s Punch is served for two from a beautiful porcelain teapot.

Close out the meal with authentic Thai desserts. Try the Mochi rice dumplings, sticky rice flour dumplings with black sesame seed paste, served in a sweet broth ideal for a cold winter night, or the impossibly gorgeous Thai bean fruits, mashed mung beans coated with sugar and paste, and painstakingly designed and painted to look like bright mini peppers or tropical fruits.

As someone with an upcoming trip to Thailand in the works (more on that in the future), dining at Soi 38 felt like a wonderful preview, an exclusive sneak peek, of the types of food and flavors I can expect to find during my travels, whether in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. Nat and Dia and their team are welcoming and friendly, and make you feel right at home. Their love of the cuisine being served and of their homeland as a whole comes through in each dish brought to the table, making the entire experience that much more rewarding. Step beyond the Thai food you’re more familiar with, and stroll down Soi 38 to see what Bangkok is really cooking up.

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