“The plainer, the better” tends to serve me well for pegging great sources of Thai food, a philosophy supported by the bare-bones Thai Square in Falls Church and the barely dressier Little Serow, set in a basement near Dupont Circle. Some upstarts have challenged that assumption, foremost Soi 38, a downtown knockout that catches the eye with a palette of gold and black and a painting of a dragon stretching across the ceiling. Owners Dia Khanthongthip and Nat Ongsangkoon, eager to introduce diners to the street food of their native Bangkok, named their gem after one of the Thai capital’s most popular night markets.
If you seek heat, the kitchen delivers. Pearly steamed shrimp lined up on fish and lime sauces set the tongue on fire with their racy topping of red chilies and garlic. Tender spears of Chinese broccoli on the plate help tame the flames between bites. To the side of a blazing yellow curry (khao soi) packed with egg noodles and soft chicken sits a plate of garnishes — sour cabbage, chili oil, red onions — that put your mouth in party mode. But you don’t have to be a hot head to appreciate the place. Stir-fried rice with shrimp, cashews and carrots, heaped in a pineapple half, goes down tame but tasty.
Save the Singha for the competition; here’s the rare Thai restaurant that takes its cocktails seriously. And bonus points for diversity in seating. One of the restaurant’s more commodious tables can accommodate up to 14 diners.