Prasit "Ken" Khachenrum's culinary journey spans more than 11,000 miles. In his native Thailand, the young chef began mastering the dishes of his home soil at Grand Hyatt Hotel in Bangkok. Later, after landing a position with Commodore Cruise Lines, the globetrotting Khachenrum continued plying his skills while sailing beneath the Caribbean sun. Upon deciding to settle in Washington, DC, Chef Ken worked through the city's restaurant scene on his way to becoming sushi chef at Yosaku Japanese Restaurant, opening his first restaurant in Yorktown in 2002, and finally, opening Thaijindesu. Thaijindesu—translated from the Japanese word "romanji," meaning "Thai people"—invites guests into an elegant spiral of Thai and Japanese flavors. Chef Ken places bowls of steaming noodles and curries beside fresh rolls of sushi, uniting regional nuances on a single menu rather than uniting two menus with Velcro.
Before Tida Thai existed, when Boonrit Ngamsaard?known to his restaurant's many regulars as Jack?first started cooking Thai food for other people, something was missing. His dishes weren't quite reaching the standards he'd set for himself. In response, Jack didn't just order a new spice or check out a cookbook from the library?instead, he went all the way back to Thailand. Only there, Jack reasoned, could he immerse himself in the skills he wanted to absorb.
It worked. Jack returned to the states on a long noodle zip line, fired up a pan, minced some garlic, and instantly realized that his trip to Thailand had been a good idea. He then founded Tida Thai, an elegantly decorated establishment where fresh foods delight palates. Customers describe Jack as a "warm and caring individual." And they enjoy his perfectionist streak, too, citing the chef's penchant for getting feedback and tweaking spice levels to individual specifications. It's no wonder that after much imploring from his customers, Jack opened up several more locations. Regulars now pour into these eateries every day, enthusiastically seeking Jack's skillful flavor combinations and Tida Thai's tranquil atmosphere.
Although crisp tablecloths and wood-paneled walls lend Royal Thai Cuisine's dining room a formal air, an attentive waitstaff and old-style Thai recipes help to keep the atmosphere homey. As guests peruse the menu of fragrant curries, stir-fried chicken, and roasted fish, servers patiently answer questions about specific dishes' ingredients and spice levels, which can be made mild or fiery. For added visual flair, some entrees arrive in a hollowed-out half-pineapple or the arms of a cardboard cutout of Cary Grant.
Shades of crimson and golden lighting embrace patrons as they enter Simply Thai, where the aromas of curry and spiced stir-fry enchant the senses. Crispy duck bathes in piquant sauces, and seafood specials populate plates with shrimp, scallops, and mussels in rich pools of curry. Meat-eschewers can find solace in a lengthy list of vegetarian specials, curries, and noodle dishes.
While using forks to spear thin-sliced beef or twirl flat rice noodles, patrons can sit back into curvy, cushioned backboards and admire a mandala-esque bronze disk mounted onto a colorful wall. A Buddha motif interweaves the restaurant's décor, with golden Buddha heads watching over diners from a wall and a larger lounging statue dreaming of nirvana and its close cousin, Marshmallow Fluff.
Som Bao Cafe is a family business that's run by the seven grown children of Somdee and Bao Phoutasen, who lent their names to the eatery's moniker and their passion for food to the kitchen. On any given day, guests may meet siblings Bo, Fonsi, or Kelly as they drop off plates of coconut-infused curry or steaming pad thai. Kam or Pennee may appear at the register, and Monk or Susan might share the spicy details of their favorite rice or noodle dish in exchange for a winning lotto ticket.
Whether quenching a TV fix at the black lacquered bar or noshing on a veggie stir-fry at a casual table in the dining room, each patron plays a role in making this family's American dream come true, even without disturbing the sleeping genies hiding in every soy-sauce bottle.