Inspired by the underground eateries around Bangkok's night markets, Soi 38 (2101 L St. NW) has transplanted creative Thai street foods, hearty favorites and a bar program featuring draft and bottled cocktails to D.C.'s West End neighborhood.
For years, owners Nat Ongsangkoon and Dia Khanthongthip had dreamed of bringing Thai market foods to D.C. As natives of Bangkok, they grew up relishing trips to the night market for some of the best food in Thailand.
"The street foods of a country are the backbone of its culinary identity," said Khanthongthip, who along with Ongsangkoon opened Soi 38 this spring. "We can't imagine a better community to showcase these foods than the cultural epicenter that is D.C."
The owners collaborated with Chef Mitchai Pankham to create a nostalgic yet innovative Thai street food menu, looking to meet the D.C. foodie's desire to embrace vibrant flavors as well as whimsical cocktails.
The spot opened during the spring, with dishes ($10-$18 during lunch; $14-$25 during dinner) both rustic and creative. They present innovative takes on widely popular Thai street foods, such as:
The Pedi Roti roll ($8) is certainly the best roll of the menu. Made with slow-roasted duck, cucumber and the roti shell, the flavors are sweet and rather gentle. It's an easy start to the fiery spices Thai cuisine is known for.
For those who don't need a gentle transition to the punch-in-the-face heat of Thai cuisine, the Prik Tod ($7) is scintillating -- chicken and shrimp crisply battered with green chili and creamy Sriracha. There is simply no hiding from the fabulous fried heat of the Prik Tod.
Since I'm not much for gentle Thai food, I would not order from either the soup ("Small Bowl/Hot Pot") portion of the menu, nor the "Yum" one. However, if forced to make a recommendation, I'd tell you to opt for the Tom Jued ($14) or the Yum Goong Fu ($9).
With that said, I could have eaten two bowls of the exciting Khao Soi noodles ($12). Savory chicken leg, Khao Soi curry, egg noodles and sour cabbage came together to create a harmonious symmetry of competing textures and flavors.
Now, I hear the fried chicken is most diners' favorite but that's akin to going to Paris and ordering nachos. The safe and familiar is not the reason to come to SOI 38.
Pretty much whatever you order, it's going to come with a bold sauce. A rich peanut chili sauce, spicy chili lime and creamy Sriracha, as well as various spiced and infused vinegars, are all made in-house and paired alongside complementary dishes.
Desserts incorporate ingredients such as fresh fruits and creamy coconut, providing a well-balanced, slightly sweet end to a memorable meal.
Finally, not to be missed is the refreshing housemade lemongrass soda. Showcasing surprising ingredients such as chili angostura bitters, fresh coconut and ginger, the lemongrass soda reflects the talent of D.C. mixologist J.P. Caceres.
"The beverage program at Soi 38 focuses on showcasing the flavors essential to the fabric of Thai cookery," said Caceres.
Do try the refreshing Sinapore Sling ($10). Beefeater gin, luxardo cherry, Benedictine, clarified lime, chili aromatic bitters, sloe gin, and pineapple juice create the perfect contrast to the spicy dishes.
I'd also recommend the signature cocktail, the Emperor's Punch ($35). A gorgeous teapot is filled with a soothing blend of Monkey Shoulder whiskey, fresh lemon, housemade tamarind syrup, Thai herbal tea and chili aromatic bitters. Dangerously easy to consume, which is why I adore it.
Soi 38 is a 3,967-square-foot restaurant with 142 seats, including a meticulously designed communal table in front of a semi-open kitchen and 13 bar seats. An additional 52 seats are located outside for an open-air dining experience.