I've worked in Crystal City for more years than I care to think about, and Ive been largely disappointed by the restaurants along the strip at 23rd and Eads Streets. Since they usually werent worth the effort, Id stopped going there. Instead, when I prefer not to heat leftovers in the microwave, I'll hop into the car and drive somewhere with decent food and free parking. (That eliminates the district.)
I thought Id go back to check out Thai Smile, though, after Id seen some of the other Hounds recommend it. Last Friday, my wife (who had a CWS day) and I convinced a coworker to accompany us. It didnt take too much to convince her since she loves Thai food. Parking, for those who dont know Crystal City, is difficult to find, but at least there _is_ parking. If youre not lucky enough to get one of the spaces on that block, you can usually manage to get one within a couple of blocks.
The décor is modest, but its clean enough not to be an influence one way or the other, so the place would stand on the merits of the kitchen.
For appetizers, we all shared chicken satay, spring rolls, and larb. The satay was okay, thinly sliced and grilled, although I would have preferred it to have been marinated longer and with more curry. The spring rolls were good: not overly greasy, although the accompanying sauce was a tad sweet and could have been a bit spicier. The larb was delicately flavored rather than robust, but very good.
I love Thai food, though its not my native cuisine, and when I'm at a Thai restaurant that's new to me, I'll usually order the green curry or the Kra Prow as a gauge of the kitchen. As well as being among my favorite dishes, I figure that if they can do those standards justice, its usually worth a return visit. Since it was a cold and windy day, I chose the curry. It was quite good, flavorful and slightly piquant, though next time I'll order it with more heat. I'd also like it to have had a bit more complexity, as well. Its the first time Ive had green peas in my green curry and, while not bad, Id trade it for more basil and some Thai eggplant.
My wife had the Lad Na, which she enjoyed, though she did see fit to add some fish sauce. I had a taste and it was flavorful, and its a dish Ill order when Im in the mood for noodles.
Other Thai restaurants in the area that my wife and I have been to over the years include Duangrat, Crystal Thai, Neesha Thai, Tara Thai (Tyson's), Thaiphoon, and a bunch more. Most of these did not merit a return visit, since the dishes were much too sweet (a fault we think is shared by many Chinese restaurants here). Thai Smile manages to avoid this.
My coworker enjoyed her Kra Prow, and said that it was spicy enough for her, but shed have liked it to have more basil. I'll check it out next time. The bottom line is that there will be a next time, which is more than I can say for most of the Thai restaurants Ive tried in the area.
Oh, and prices: most entrees ran about $5.95 for lunch, slightly higher for dinner. Considering youd pay at least that much for a sandwich at most of the sub shops around here, I consider it a bargan.