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Warning: When Kitima “Kitty” Boonmala says her Thai noodle soups are spicy, she means they’re Thai spicy, not American spicy, so hold on to your eyebrows. “The good thing about noodle soups is you can adjust your own spice, but most will come out pretty spicy already,” she says. Boonmala is launching a long-term, late-night pop-up inside Lucky Buns on Sept. 14.
Toh Roong, which is a short way of saying “night market,” will specialize in boat noodles—piping hot bowls of rice noodles in a rich beef broth thickened by blood and laced with chilies that Boonmala tops with the traditional combination of braised beef and beef balls. It’s one of the dishes her home city of Ayutthaya, Thailand is known for at its floating markets and night markets.
Some of the recipes at Toh Roong belong to Boonmala’s mother, who once had a restaurant in Ayutthaya. “My mom opened it because we had a money crisis when I was in college,” Boonmala explains. “She wanted to make a second source of income. At least we had noodles to eat everyday.”
The pop-up will operate inside the Adams Morgan burger joint Wednesdays through Saturday nights from 11:30 p.m. to 2:30 a.m. Boonmala first connected with Lucky Buns chef and owner Alex McCoy when she worked for him at Alfie’s on Georgia Avenue NW. Alfie’s, also a Thai concept, has since closed, but McCoy is looking for a permanent home for it.
“We had a number of very good Thai friends who helped us, who I bought product from, who shared family recipes with us and who also worked with us,” McCoy says. “Kitty’s family’s noodle shop was a hit, with her mothers boat noodles being heralded as some of the best in the area. People came from all over to try them.”
In addition to boat noodles, the Toh Roong pop-up will offer rotating selection of other noodle soups priced at $15 to $17 each, such as curry noodle soup or a dish Boonmala describes as her take on Thailand’s favorite instant ramen. Mama Noodles are to Thailand as Top Ramen is to Japan.
“People think it’s boring, but I put different toppings on it like pork belly or shrimp,” she says. “It has a Tom Yum base and we make it restaurant-style with fresh ingredients.” Tom Yum is a hot and sour soup that smacks you with lemongrass and kaffir lime.
Boonmala doesn’t make her own noodles, but should she get the chance to open her own noodle shop down the line she’d consider it. “Ramen is really popular, people know about it,” she says. “Eventually one day, I want people to know about Thai noodle soups that way. I want to bring that to D.C. not only for American people but Thai people too. When they eat it, they’ll say this is what I ate in Thailand.”
There is no end date for the Toh Roong pop-up. McCoy says they’ll keep going so long as it’s popular.
Lucky Buns, 2000 18th St. NW; (202) 506-1713; luckybunsdc.com