At Vannipa Thai restaurant, cooks introduce tastebuds to the complex, perfectly balanced flavors of Thai cuisine with dishes culled from all-natural, MSG-free ingredients. Like a Rodin sculpture made of marzipan, each dish is an edible masterpiece: Bone-white dishes frame colorful peppers and coriander leaves, slices of Thai eggplant, or morsels of roasted duck and fried fish. Palm sugar sweetens papaya salad and pad Thai, whereas spicy Thai peppers and curries add piquant notes to dishes including chicken stir fry and steamed rockfish.
Green-blue lights illuminate the oversized oceanic mural, hitting the paint in such a way that the tropical fish, coral, and whale seem to come to life. The underwater scene—complete with a sunken pirate ship—is the centerpiece of Tara Thai’s dining room, which accompanies décor such as a molded wave that spans the front of the bar, plates painted with colorful fish, and dangling lights fashioned to look like jellyfish.
With the aquatic ambience, you might make the mistake of thinking Tara Thai serves nothing but seafood. But in reality, dishes like fresh mussels with lemongrass and chili sauce are only part of the lineup of traditional Thai dishes. Those traditional offerings include the Chef recommended spicy roasted tofu and honey duck curry, as well as classics like crispy spring rolls which, despite their name, are served year-round.
At Burapa Thai's two locations in Arlington and Leesburg, the dishes on the menu tantalize with a fragrant cocktail of spices. The aromas of marinated beef mingle with those of honey, Thai herbs, and garlic, and crispy duck crackles sharply beneath sauce and basil leaves. Waiters pass through the dining room toting plates that highlight seafood and shrimp as well as lard na, a type of wide rice noodle. With steam from curries melding coconut, shrimp, and eggplant, chefs behind Burapa's sushi bar roll up eel and salmon held together by seaweed like Robinson Crusoe’s flat-screen TV. Amid the Arlington location’s booths, abstract tile work, and rich wood paneling, guests admire fresh-cut flowers.
"Seek Happiness" proclaims one of the pieces of colorful artwork on Thai At Corner's walls––and for some, happiness may come in the form of 60 asian wings. Served with celery and blue cheese or ranch dressing, the spicy wings are a main attraction, but far from the only one. Cinnamon duck, broiled in the traditional Thai style and served with a spicy lemon sauce, goes toe-to-toe with shrimp stir fried in garlic sauce for the title of Most Likely to be President. Beef marinates overnight before being stir-fried, topped with ginger, and fried bananas a la mode prove an appetizing conclusion to meals.
Though united by their name and a penchant for serving spicy Southeast Asian cuisine, each Sala Thai restaurant blazes its own culinary trail. Some dishes, such as the kee mao—flat rice noodles sautéed in hot chilis—sate diners' hungers at all locations, and other bites, such as M Street's red-curry pork with pineapple, can only be found in one place. To appease a variety of tastes, some locations also serve fresh, neatly rolled sushi. The Petworth, Bethesda, and U Street restaurants also calm customers' cravings for saxophone melodies and dark sunglasses worn indoors with live jazz performances on Fridays and Saturdays.