Som Tam does double duty as the name of Alex McCoy‘s next restaurant and the signature dish it will serve—funky, tangy papaya salads. In Thailand, som tam shops are no larger than a take-out window and a handful of tables and stools. McCoy, who’s also behind smash hit Lucky Buns in Adams Morgan, will try to replicate the same atmosphere by converting an old ATM vestibule in NoMa (111 K St. NE) into a tiny street food stall with modest outdoor seating surrounded by canna lilies and banana trees.
“What we’ve decided to do is really embrace the experience of eating Thai food outside and fit that into an American city,” McCoy says. “There’s something so unique and beautiful about sitting on a stool at a metal table watching the street vendor cook the food in front of you at a stall or shophouse … feeling the heat and the sweat and watching the tuk tuks drive by. It’s something I’ve wanted to try to recreate.” In this case diners will hear the whoosh of the Metro.
McCoy has visited Thailand regularly over the past decade. “The people have been so welcoming and embracing of chefs who have taken the time to learn how to cook food properly and learn about the culture properly,” he says. He previously operated Thai restaurant Alfie’s in Park View and is still looking for a permanent home for the concept. “Not being Thai—that question comes up a lot—but I consider it a second home for me. I love the place. I love the people.”
When Som Tam opens in mid-summer, it will serve regional varieties of papaya salads. The Isaan version from Northeastern Thailand is a little spicier and funkier compared to central Thailand’s recipe, which is a little sweeter according to McCoy.
Cooks will hand-cut papayas and use pok poks (Thai mortar and pestles) to make salads from scratch using traditional methods. “I’m trying to get as close to what you’d find on the streets of Thailand,” McCoy says.
In addition to papaya salads, Som Tam will serve khao soi from “big bubbling cauldrons.” The comforting northern Thai egg noodle soup made velvety with coconut milk will be available with braised chicken or beef.
“Guests will be able to customize their khao soi with the classic accompaniments of pickled mustard greens, chili paste, lime, and shallots,” McCoy says. The papaya salads are customizable too, with add-ons such as mackerel, tuna, crab meat, and salted duck egg. See a few sample dishes below.
McCoy’s vision is to operate Som Tam during the day for the lunch crowd and also deep into the evening. “I’m hoping to turn this into an all-night thing,” he says.
Som Tam, 111 K St. NE
KHAO SOI GAI – braised chicken curry soup, baa mee noodles, Burmese spices, pickled mustard greens
KHAO SOI NEUEA TUN – braised beef curry soup, baa mee noodles, Burmese spices, pickled mustard greens
PHLA GOONG – prawn salad, roasted chili vinaigrette, mint, shallots, lemongrass
“JUNGLE STYLE” TAM PA ตำป่า – Green papaya salad , Thai eggplant, sawtooth herb, rice noodles, fermented fish, tomatoes, long bean, crab paste, bamboo, whelks
SOM TAM PLA RA ส้มตำปลาร้า – Isaan green papaya salad, Thai eggplant, fermented fish sauce, crab paste, lime
SOM TAM THAI ส้มตำ – Green papaya salad, tomato, long bean, chili vinaigrette, peanuts