What: Khao soi
Where: Alfie's, 3301 Georgia Ave NW. 202-853-3901. alfiesdc.com.
Chef Alex McCoy's rich, spicy and complex coconut curry soup has roots in Myanmar, with Chinese influences as well. But the dish -- thinner than the coconut milk curries most of us know from American Thai restaurants -- has been made famous by the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, as it's also known as Chiang Mai noodles.
"It's like tomato soup," said McCoy, who opened the doors on his pop-up last month. "Everyone has their own recipe for it."
McCoy has traveled and eaten extensively in Thailand, and he pulled inspiration from two of his favorite khao soi spots. One inspired his beef-and-chicken broth, which he simmers for several hours. (A vegetarian version may come down the line.) Another provided the template for the fresh, chewy egg noodles (baa mee) he makes in-house.
McCoy also makes his own curry pastes. For the khao soi, the flavor mix includes dried chilies, black cardamom, coriander and cumin. Each order comes with a plate of fixings -- lemon, pickled mustard greens, shallots, hot chili paste -- so that diners can customize the soup to their liking.
Topped with a pile of fried noodles (McCoy buys fresh strands to fry because his egg-heavy ones would puff up like funnel cake) and a choice of the beef or chicken used to build the broth, the khao soi is the top seller at Alfie's. Because the broth and paste are made daily in limited supplies, the kitchen can only serve 30 orders per night. "When it's sold out, it's sold out," the chef said.
McCoy is eager to be "spreading the gospel" of khao soi. While Washington diners have been slurping up the virtues of pho and ramen, he can't quite understand why khao soi hasn't become more ubiquitous.
"It should be a specialty at every Thai restaurant," he said. "A lot of places don't really do it."