A while ago, I said my hello to the board, mentioned that I was down in the DC area on business, and asked for recs near the office in Crystal City. I was offered several condolences, as well as word of the upcoming (at the time) Jaleo.
I did find some decent food up on 23rd, though, and have been meaning to report on one place in particular for a while.
According to folks in my office, the establishment that is currently Urban Thai was -- in the past -- a different, awful Thai restaurant. Bad enough that, even with new owners and a complete re-do of the place, I still had a hard time getting anyone to go (a feat that has since been accomplished).
As it stands now, Urban Thai puts out some really enjoyable food, and I'd argue that it's the best lunch spot on 23rd (and worth adding to any rotation that includes Jaleo, Oyamel, and whatever else winds up over on Crystal Drive).
Some dishes worth trying:
Spring Rolls -- really simple, vegetable fried spring rolls, 3 long, skinny ones to an order. Great dipping sauce (I load up on the chili as well), and very fresh.
Pla Goong -- This was a special that one of the waitresses recommended. Spicy shrimp with lemongrass, chili, onion, kaffir lime leaves. It was flat-out phenomenal, and I made it known that I'd love to see it added to the regular menu. I sat there and picked every little bit of food up off of the plate, and common decency alone stopped me from licking the plate thereafter.
Tom Yum Talay -- A really great, steaming large bowl of lemongrass soup, loaded with seafood (two or three nice-sized shrimp, a scallop, a mussel, and big pieces of fish). I was surprised at the amount of seafood included when I first ordered it, and was even more surprised at how good all the seafood was. Really great for the price (I believe $5-6).
Kra Pow -- Really nice version, served with a lot of meat, basil, peppers and onions, a very tasty sauce, and a nice ball of rice. I've seen many people around me order this dish and comment on how much they're enjoying it. Even better when you can get them to make it blazingly hot.
Pad Thai -- The old standby is very well done. A huge portion (easily enough to take some home), made from very fresh ingredients, and served with three extremely -tasty shrimp (chicken can be ordered instead). The flavors of the fish sauce, egg, green onion, peanut, and sprouts all beam through.
Panang -- Great sauce, though it helps to be a big fan of peanuts, and sweet things in general. Served with rice and a huge helping of chicken.
Drunken Noodles -- As pretty much goes for all noodle dishes here: great, flavorful sauce. The wide noodles are well-prepared.
Salmon -- I'll admit that I have yet to order this, but it looks really nice, and every person I've ever seen get it has commented on how wonderful it is. I believe it's listed as one of the spicier menu options. Served over a salad.
Papaya Salad -- A nice light option. Sweet and spicy and, as noted of the mango below, these folks manage to get their hands on some great fruit.
Mango and Sticky Rice -- I don't know where they get their mango from ("Mexico" was the cheeky response), but it is consistently perfect. A huge portion, beautifully prepared and served fresh. The rice is delicious, and is served nice and warm. Absolutely ridiculous for $3.95.
I only have two real gripes with the place. One, it is not easy to convince them that you really want something spicy. It has taken a lot of visits to convince my usual waitress that I want my mouth set on fire (she now chides me for eating things too spicy, which is probably true). You can always ask them to add to your dish, though. Two, their coconut ice cream comes from the same place as 23rd Street's other Thai restaurant (Top Thai) and it blows. I was previously on business in Nashville, and frequented a Thai restaurant that made their own amazing coconut ice cream (little nibs of corn and all). I really miss that stuff. All other desserts at Urban have been great.
Anywho, I don't imagine many of you would travel to Crystal City just to eat here, but if you happen to be in the area (and you aren't going to Jaleo or Oyamel), then you should really give Urban Thai a shot. If you work around here, it would be a crime if they aren't a regular destination. The people who own and work at the restaurant are all related, and are all recent arrivals from Thailand. They're really sweet folks, and they cook some fine food.
I suppose I'll also mention -- I've been getting the impression recently (I'm there at least once, and often twice, a week) that they could really use some more business. They don't skimp on anything, and I'm not so sure people in the area even realize that they're over on that end of 23rd Street (by Fern Street).