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The menu at Dusit Thai Cuisine is something of an epic. It lists 109 selections—not including daily specials and variations on some dishes. The hemming and hawing elicited by such a wealth of choices lasted almost as long as the drive out to Wheaton. And the language barrier didn’t help to speed things up. “What would you recommend,” I asked my waitress, “the green curry with beef or the pork with sweet basil?” “Yes,” she replied.
Situated in a strip mall that itself is situated in a village of strip malls, Dusit isn’t much to look at from the street. Approaching the restaurant from the well-worn parking lot out front, you’d have to be a regular to expect that the place had any ambience at all. But the interior strikes a pleasant contrast. The tables are neatly draped with linen tablecloths and tastefully set. Napkins are sometimes folded and propped up like shark fins on the plates. The walls are adorned with straight and squiggly streaks of neon that set the dining room aglow rather than aglare. An elevated overflow room makes Dusit seem deceptively spacious, but despite some healthy dinner crowds, I never saw it put to use.
I wouldn’t know if Dusit’s dining room represents a typical Thai interior (but I’d guess it doesn’t). The language and food, however, must come pretty damn close to the real thing. When, on one visit, my companion started to order in Thai, his conversation steered sharply away from food. The excited waitress asked how such a decidedly boho-looking American fellow came to speak her native tongue with such ease. He replied, with little effort, that he spent many years in Thailand as a kid, that his parents are not natives, and that although he might seem fluent to her now, he’s got this particular conversation memorized. At least that’s what I think they said.
Yum nur, the best of the appetizers I tried, came first: a chili pepper–hot beef salad served cold and tossed with lemon juice, mint, cilantro, and red and green onion. Though my semibilingual friend wasn’t terribly amused by the angel wings, I took simple pleasure in the craftsmanship it took to make the shrimp, crab, and pork–stuffed chicken wings resemble miniature drum mallets. Dusit also does well with satay, which is served with a tangy cucumber salad. The spicy fish cakes, deep-fried but served soft, were a little on the rubbery side and lacked the punch promised by the star next to it on the menu. The lemon grass soup was delightful enough that I didn’t protest being served a bowl with shrimp when I had ordered it with chicken.
Perhaps because we lacked the clout of a Thai-speaking companion, Dusit’s service became less than cordial on another visit. When we all got carded over a bottle of the house red, our waitress collected our licenses and retreated to the restaurant’s rear to consult a colleague. Following several minutes of discussion, a different waitress returned, handed us back our IDs and remarked to me, “Looks like your brother”—a peculiar accusation considering that we’d never met before and that, to the best of my knowledge, all my siblings are women. Nevertheless, they served us
Like its service, Dusit’s entrees are hit-or-miss. The pad Thai was lovely, mixed with generous portions of pork and shrimp and a light peanut sauce. Both the green and country curries (we tried the former with beef, the latter with chicken) were winners, particularly the latter, which is served without the coconut sauce and with twice the kick of the other curries. The tofu delight sounded too interesting to pass up (we had it stir-fried with chicken and crabmeat, though you can get it with pork), but tasted fishy and was riddled with shells. We left both the chicken with cashews and the deep-fried red snapper with black bean sauce unfinished—they were drenched in bland sauces. But the shrimp pot—at $10.95, one of Dusit’s most expensive dishes—was well worth the money: A steaming-hot crock was filled with whole shrimp tangled in bean threads and flavored with a melodious mixture of spices that had us fumbling for a description. “This is mine,” snapped a friend who had grown tired of our picking at her meal.
With several meals now behind me, Dusit’s menu seems more manageable: I would consider only the house specialties, the curries, the appetizers, and the starred items. Some skatepunk dudes who waited in the entryway with me on one visit would’ve benefited from similar knowledge; after staring at the menu for a couple of minutes, they split, perhaps daunted by its length. Or maybe they wisely figured they couldn’t use their brothers’ IDs.
Dusit Thai Cusine, 2404 University Blvd. West, Wheaton. (301) 949-4140.
I’m not the only fool who figured Hodges Restaurant was just another place to get your muffler fixed. “I lived around here for a year or so before I figured this place out,” said one regular as he stood holding a bought bag lunch under the sandwich shop’s crooked aluminum awning. Hodges is easy to miss. The one-room take-out joint is squashed inconspicuously between long rows of decrepit auto-repair shops. But it’s beef, not brakes, that gets special treatment in this place. Hodges piles chunks of roast beef on its sandwiches, which are so thick you’d think they used an ax to carve the filling. Although it felt like sacrilege, I had to remove a layer just to cram the beast into my mouth. Served on sturdy poppy-seed rolls, the sandwiches come with a choice of condiments (try the hot sauce or horseradish) and one thing an “authentic” cheesesteak I recently encountered in Philly lacked: real cheese.
Hodges Restaurant, 616 New York Ave. NW. (202) 628-0606.
Eatery tips? Hot plates? Send suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or call (202) 332-2100 and ask for my voice mail.—Brett Anderson