I spent the first 18 years of my life in the middle of Long Island, where great pizza and Chinese food could be found in abundance but where Thai food options were slim. There was one Thai food restaurant I knew of anywhere close to my house, and if I ever ate there with family or friends, I can’t remember it. My sense of regret was enormous, then, when I moved to Boston for college and discovered just how freaking delicious Thai food is. To atone for my mistakes, I’ve been spending the past 5 years making up for lost time and eating Thai food pretty much everywhere I can find it, and I can safely say that Beau Thai is one of the best places I’ve eaten.
Owned by the sister of the chef at DC-institution Thai X-ing – where diners sit in a cramped rowhouse with no menus and for $30 eat their way through whatever courses the chef sends out – Beau Thai features a more conventional, lower-cost approach to Thai food. Located in Shaw at the corner of New Jersey Avenue and R street Northwest, Beau Thai is in the center of a largely residential area and removed from the heart of the district’s restaurant scene. But despite being a bit out of the way from some areas, the quality of food being served at affordable prices makes it an absolute must-visit, even in a city teeming with Thai restaurants.
I’ve started almost every meal here with Beau Thai’s stellar version of Tom Yum Soup, a sweet and sour Thai soup typically made with lemongrass, kaffir lime, and other traditional Thai ingredients and served here with shrimp, chicken, and some grape tomatoes. It’s the perfect way to start a meal – not too heavy, not too spicy, with a great combination of Thai flavors. The menu has a number of other appetizers that also look great, but so far I’ve just been unwilling to forgo this soup.
The list of possible entrees is huge, as many dishes can be served with your choice of chicken, beef, pork, or tofu. Cashew chicken with scallions comes in an intensely flavorful brown sauce, which, spooned over the accompanying jasmine rice, could be a satisfying dish on its own. With the crunch of the cashews and the juicy chicken, the combination makes for an outstanding entree. Massaman curry was delicious, both sweet, savory, and a bit spicy with a creamy texture, and the green curry, while a little more one-note, was also very good.
And while almost everything is worth ordering, there is definitely a standout dish at Beau Thai – and the restaurant seems to know it, giving it the name Beau Thai Chicken. Thin slices of chicken are coated in flour and fried, then mixed with still-crispy green beans, bell peppers, onions, and a slightly spicy sauce. It makes for a dish that’s so delicious that it’s hard to share, and I’ve found myself fighting more than once over who gets the last few bites.
Misses have been few and far between. Drunken noodles, one of my favorite Thai dishes, are flavorful but a bit too spicy, and after ten or twelve bites I find myself unable to focus on anything but the heat. And I can’t forget the one time I ordered Tom Yum Soup for takeout and found it tasted almost bitter, to the point where after only a few spoonfuls my girlfriend and I both threw it out. Other than these small hiccups, the kitchen at Beau Thai has been extremely consistent, and I’ve found myself enjoying one great meal after another. My girlfriend and I even brought friends from out of town here, which led to rave reviews of our hospitality.
So go and check it out. If you live in Shaw and haven’t been yet, there’s no excuse to wait any longer. If you’re a bit farther out, plan a night out on U street and head first to Beau Thai for dinner, only a 15-20 minute walk away. Trust me, it’ll be worth it.