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Ramen and pho may be the default big bowls of soup to warm you up during the District’s cold snap. But if you’re in the mood for a change of pace, you should consider opting for khao soi instead.
The Burmese-influenced creamy curry and egg noodle dish hails from northern Thailand, and in particular, it’s one of the specialties of Chiang Mai. It differs from a standard Thai curry because of those egg noodles, which means there’s also no need to serve it over rice.
The dish starts with a base of red curry, which includes red chilies, lemongrass, turmeric, galangal, shallots, and kaffir lime. Yellow curry powder is then added, and it’s all simmered together in coconut milk. The mixture is poured over egg noodles, topped with fried, crunchy egg noodle strings, and typically features a whole chicken drumstick. As with many Thai dishes, half the fun is adding spices and condiments.
Luckily, D.C. offers up plenty of good options for khao soi once you know where to look. Here are some of them:
2101 L St. NW; (202) 558-9215; soi38dc.com
Chef Mitchai Pankham hails from northern Thailand, and his khao soi is one of the restaurant’s specialties. The spicy curry comes topped with sour cabbage, and for a bargain $12, you get a monster, filling portion. The dish is accompanied by a traditional Thai four-condiment tray, which always includes some variation of chillies in vinegar (sour), sugar (sweet), dried chilies (spice), and fish sauce with chilies (salt).
1800 14th St. NW; (202) 733-5131; doimoidc.com
Doi Moi draws from Thai, Vietnamese, and other Southeast Asian cuisines, so it’s appropriate it has this melting pot of a dish. A bowl of khao soi gai (gai means chicken) is on the menu for $16 and includes toppings like pickled mustard greens, scallions, and cilantro.
1326 14th St. NW; (202) 588-5889; tsunamisushidc.com
The northern Thai-focused Baan Thai menu at Tsunami Sushi & Lounge serves khao soi gai loaded up with pickled cabbage, scallions, red onions, and chilies. The large $14 bowl—big enough for two to split— includes a chicken thigh rather than a drumstick. Condiments are available if you ask.
412 U St. NW; (202) 232-8424; dcnoodles.com
DC Noodles is all about Thai noodle dishes, from soups to salads and stir-fries, so it’s no surprise they have khao soi, too. Their Burmese khao soi includes the addition of cumin in the curry, which is not typically found in most versions of the dish. Your dish will also be served with your choice of protein, including chicken, pork, or tofu for $14, or shrimp, beef, or mixed seafood for $15.
Bua Thai Cuisine
1635 P St. NW; (202) 265-0828; buathai.com
Bua Thai’s Kao Soi comes topped with thinly sliced red onions, picked cabbage, and chopped scallions. It’s the cheapest I found—just $10.25.
3000 K St. NW, (202) 333-4422; mamarouge.com
Mama Rouge takes an untraditional approach, starting with their yellow pumpkin squash curry. They add in chewy lo mein-style noodles, sliced chicken, and broccolini, then top the whole thing with a huge adornment of fried noodles. The $12 dish is more noodle bowl than soup and offers a lighter, sweeter flavor.
The suburbs have you covered for your khao soi fix as well: At Bangkok 54 Oriental Food Market in Arlington, you can purchase premade khao soi to go. Thai Market in Silver Spring also sells the dish from their readymade foods section on the weekends. Thai Taste Wheaton offers Chiang Mai noodles on the menu made with either chicken or beef. Elephant Jumps in Falls Church also offers khao soi from time to time. If you visited and you’re out of luck, you can instead try the gang hung lay, a pork shoulder curry also from Chiang Mai.
Top photo from Baan Thai by Jessica Sidman. Other photos by Jake Emen.