Words and photos: Stephanie Breijo
You’re salivating over the sticky rice you purchased en route to the temples in Vientiane; your mouth stings and swells from the chili peppers you sampled in Isan. You’ve never left D.C. but your palate has–Soi 38‘s authentic and innovative menu is stuffed to the whole-fish gills with creative interpretations of traditional Thai street food, all from the comfort of Foggy Bottom.
When owners Nat Ongsangkoon and Dia Khanthongthip visited the night markets of Bangkok, they dreamed of one day bringing Thai market food to D.C. Now, just off L Street, their vision is a reality complete with a comprehensive menu that’s equal parts fried street traditional and innovative, upscale twists on classic Thai fare. The cocktails–conceived by beloved beverage director JP Caceres–are all as thoughtful as you’d expect from on of D.C.’s top mixologists, each one more alluring than the next be it in tea pot or tiny bottle.
We begin with The Emperor’s Punch, a dangerously smooth and tangy concoction served in a blue and white porcelain tea pot containing Monkey Shoulder whiskey, fresh lemon, house-made tamarind syrup, Thai herbal tea, and chili aromatic bitters. It is a perfect compliment to the Prik Tod, the large deep-fried chili peppers stuffed with chicken and shrimp, then dipped into the creamy Sriracha sauce.
The Yum Goong Fu–a friend shrimp dish that’s both spicy and sweet from julienned mango and chopped red chili–idled on the tongue, rich from the oil and fresh from the cilantro and red onion. The true star of the meal, however, is what came next: the Khao Soi, a Burmese-influenced classic curry dish, is hot enough to make your eyes water and delicious enough for you to beg for more.
The tender stewed chicken leg succumbed to a gentle tap of my fork and mingled with the egg noodles and rich curry to create a perfect bite; a bite, I’ll mention, I chased down with water, Emperor’s Punch, and anything within arm’s reach. This was the spiciest dish we sampled but make no mistake–it was by far the most flavorful and the most daring.
For those looking for less heat, we suggest the Gai Tod, Soi 38’s plate of deep-fried chicken. The batter is thick and crispy, topped with miniature bottles of spicy or sweet sauce. Looking for something a bit more adventurous? Try the whole rockfish. You won’t regret it.