Bells ring as I slip into my seat at the latest Thai restaurant to pop up in the District. The life-size photographs of smiling family members on the wall look familiar. So does the affable host. The menu reads like one I know well, too, having previously grazed at the restaurant’s sibling in Shaw.
While Beau Thai No. 2, in Mount Pleasant, shares a lot in common with the original, closer inspection finds a much larger space: The offshoot is three times the size, with 80 seats, and comes with a private party room that seats up to a dozen diners. What was once a public library is now a source of chicken satay, massaman curry and crab fried rice served in what has become the dress du jour for fresh restaurants: concrete floors, uncovered tables and near-bare walls. A personal touch comes by way of those big pictures, however: shots of co-owner Aschara Vigsittaboot and her relatives in younger days.
Go early for dinner, or risk a wait. Neighbors have been packing the place since it opened in February. Diced pork belly on a nest of rice noodles invigorated with a lime dressing help explain the interest. Green grapes bob in a red curry bulked up with sliced duck and blasted with black peppercorns. The house specialties include tilapia fried to a golden crisp and splashed with an assertive basil sauce.
Oh, dishes can be forgotten in the crush of a busy meal, and balance is missing from some of them. The clear shrimp soup, tom yum, is sweet enough to qualify as dessert, while “spicy” ground chicken, larb gai, is shy on the expected fire. But more of the cooking is as nuanced as you want it to be.
Another advantage diners enjoy at the new Beau Thai is a menu category called Noodle Bowls. Egg noodles decked out with honey-kissed roast pork and presented with a side bowl of garlicky chicken broth is $10 of pure comfort — and a prod to try the other seven bowls on the list.
3162 Mount Pleasant St. NW, 202-450-5346. www.beauthaidc.com. Dinner entrees, $10 to $13.