So, I work in Crystal City and -- once or twice a week -- I eat at Urban Thai over on 23rd Street. I really like the place, and I've written them up on these boards, but I've always figured that Crystal City is a dining destination for other reasons (Jaleo, Oyamel) and nobody is likely to travel there for Urban.
I never tried to push too hard because, as a Jew from Manhattan, I don't really know what qualifies as "authentic Thai" (my personal shame is that I've not yet travelled to Queens for Sripraphai -- the consensus choice for NYC's best Thai food by about a country mile). I just know that I like their food. I didn't want someone to make the trip on my word, and then be disappointed.
Anyway, stemming from the recent post on a series of Thai-food chow-lunches, I did a bit of reading and noticed that a board favorite, Thai Square, is actually very close to the house I'm renting a room in down here. So, tonight, I went there for dinner.
For comparison's sake, I aimed to put together a meal that included dishes I've had several times at Urban. These included Pla Goong (a spicy shrimp salad), Tom Kah Kai (coconut soup with chicken, mushrooms, and chiles), Kraprao (chicken, chiles, and basil), and the mango and sticky rice for dessert.
Everything at Thai Square was very good. I enjoyed each of the dishes (though, despite the waitress's bug-eyed and disbelieving stare at my main, I still would have preferred it spicier). I made the trip with one of my roommates, and his crispy honey duck was delicious, as well.
With that said, each of my Thai Square dishes is equalled or surpassed by its Urban Thai counterpart. Presentation is actually head and shoulders above at Urban, as each dish is plated beautifully, rather than the more utilitarian food-on-lettuce approach Thai Square takes. That may have little effect on taste, but it's still nice.
The flavors themselves are, at heart, essentially the same, though they are more pronounced at Urban. The Pla Goong was the closest of the two, but I think Urban's soup really puts forth more of an impressive taste (and heat). The sauce on the Kraprao at Urban also has more of a tasty punch to it, and the dish is notably more loaded with basil, onions, and peppers. Also, and I've mentioned this before, but the mango they get at Urban Thai (it varies, as mangoes are wont to do) is typically phenomenal. Thai Square's was pretty good.
So, I don't feel nearly as reluctant now to say that I think Urban Thai stands right up to other top options for Thai food in the DC area. The folks who run the place are all from Thailand (many still only capable of conversing in that country's native tongue), and are incredibly nice. I know they're getting a little anxious over the upcoming opening of a Thai restaurant in the Jaleo section of town, and they truly don't deserve to take a hit at that restaurant's hands. If you have the means to get over there, you should (it's a very easy walk from the Crystal City Metro stop).
Oh, if you like your food very spicy, it does help to impress the point upon them. They know I really mean it by this point, so I get thrillingly nuked when in the mood.