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.
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 d?cor 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.
Many of the dishes listed on the menu at Thai Square are rarely tasted in the U.S.––even at American Thai restaurants. The chefs pride themselves in crafting faithfully authentic dishes, only altering recipes to accommodate timid palates upon request. As co-owner Soon Rojurai explained to reporters from Arlington Magazine, "We cook the way Thais like to eat. We say, let the American customer adjust to our food." That commitment to tradition has earned Thai Square a loyal following among American and Thai diners alike, and has also earned high praise from local media publications such as [The Washington Post](http://gr.pn/16JdlhS) and Washingtonian. Deep in the restaurant's kitchen, the chefs fold fresh ingredients and flavorful herbs into soups, noodles, and rice dishes. They simmer up red and green curries with beef and chicken, sauté crispy roasted duck in basil and chili, and stir pots of pig-knuckle stew with cinnamon and ginger, adding in sprigs of crunchy lettuce. Diners await these authentic dishes while sipping on bottled beers imported from Thailand, which can help tame the spiciness of the cuisine or inspire a spirited chorus of "99 bottles of Singha on the wall".