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 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.
Though it’s named after the most ubiquitous Thai dish in the world, Pad Thai has found plenty of ways to distinguish itself. The first thing that fans from the Washingtonian and Northern Virginia Magazine noticed was the prices, which seem paltry in comparison to the dishes’ big flavors. For well under $20, guests can indulge in a hearty entrée of crispy duck, marinated pork, or sautéed eggplant. Given the restaurant’s small size (there are only 38 seats, according to the Washingtonian), it’s best to make a reservation ahead of time and park your car outside.
As the most populous city in the world, Shanghai has been shaped by travelers and settlers from all over. This is particularly evident in the city's food, which has been influenced by the culinary styles from both the northern and southern regions of China, as well as dishes from throughout the entire continent of Asia. This cultural integration holds true at Shanghai Café, where the chefs use recipes the Hu family has spent the past half-century perfecting. These recipes follow various Shanghai cooking principles—for instance, the original flavors of meats and fish are allowed to shine through rather than being drowned out by heavy marinades or sauces that are too sweet or salty.
Though the recipes are traditional, they respect modern, healthful eating habits by incorporating natural broths and stocks and limiting the use of oil. Some of the restaurant's signature dishes include boiled dumplings, steamed pork buns, and dim sum—a Shanghai staple. In the spirit of Shanghai's pan-Asian tendencies, the menus also include Thai dishes, such as pad kee mao (drunken noodles), nigiri, sashimi, and maki.
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.