2008 Fall Dining Guide
By Tom Sietsema
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, Oct. 12, 2008
I know of prettier places to eat duck stir-fried with basil, and friendlier servers than the ones who watch over this hidden shoebox. But when I'm craving a taste of Thailand, I tend to set my GPS to Wheaton and Nava Thai. More than much of the competition, this small kitchen, headed by husband and wife Suchart and Ladavan Srigatesook, delivers the kind of balancing act you seldom find short of a flight to Bangkok. Steamed scored squid rouses the palate with lemon grass, chili sauce, garlic and cilantro. Crisp green beans, flavored with red chili peppers and a bit of sugar that caramelizes in the heat of cooking, brighten an order of delicious pork belly. If you consider chicken boring, the grilled bird with sticky rice (No. 62 on the menu) will change your mind. Yellow with curry powder, the warm chicken pieces take on more intrigue after a dip in Nava Thai's sweet-tart tamarind sauce. The secret to these mouth-watering recipes? "We try to cook like in Thailand," says Ladavan Srigatesook. They use less sugar and more heat than too many Thai restaurants in the United States. The presentation at Nava Thai suggests a home cook is behind the decorating; the plain plates here need every lime wedge or cilantro sprig they can get. But I'd trade carrots and cucumbers carved into flowers for a bowl of Floating Market Noodle Soup -- crammed with rice noodles, shaved pork, watercress and biting spices -- any meal.
Tom Sietsema re-reviewed Nava Thai for a First Bite in February 2009.
The owners of the popular Nava Thai didn't have to travel far for a new home when they couldn't come to terms with their landlord on a new lease in November and had to vacate their space at 11315 Fern St. in Wheaton. As fortune would have it, Suchart and Ladavan Srigatesook found a new spot less than two months later, and just a few steps away, in what had been a short-lived Greek restaurant.
Fans distraught over Nava Thai's sudden closing or anxious to know if the new spot is as good as the original can stop biting their nails. Most of the changes are for the better: The menu has grown by a dozen dishes, the dinner hours are a little longer (until 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays) and the new space can serve more than twice as many customers.
With the exception of some chopsticks here and a tropical fruit bowl there, Nava Thai doesn't look particularly Asian. The Srigatesooks kept the overhead beams, the sunny yellow walls and even the olive oil bottles left behind by the Greek purveyors. Amusingly, those flasks now contain fish sauce.
The constant is the food. I ordered a few favorites served at the first Nava Thai and am pleased to report that the hot-and-sour scored squid still lives up to that promise, and the grilled chicken with sticky rice continues to benefit from a meaty bird, a curry rub and a teasing tamarind dip.
The husband-and-wife owners have expanded the cooking crew, enabling the restaurant to add steamed dumplings and fried tilapia lavished with vegetables and threads of fresh ginger. The dining room staff has grown, too, but that didn't prevent a long wait to order and lags between dishes on a recent weekend.
Meanwhile, members of the family that owns the food market Hung Phat, Nava Thai's onetime neighbor and previous landlord, plan to reopen the doors of that empty space sometime this month.
Stay tuned for Song Phat and a Vietnamese menu.