50 Best Restaurants 2018: Esaan is No. 9

A Thai restaurant in McLean

Esaan
Photo by Jonathan Timmes

When even the tofu—the normally bland, soft sponge used as a canvas for other flavors—is this good, it’s a sign the rest of the menu must dazzle. This dish, a labb (often spelled larb), shows tofu cut into thin slices, fried with crispy edges, with pleasantly jarring and spicy notes revealing themselves. Kai-kra-ta is a contained dish of breakfast favorites at dinner: multiple types of pork (crumbled and sliced sausage) with two eggs inside of a silver bowl ready for the yolks to be tumbled around and eaten in big, messy bites. A lone chicken drumstick, with soft meat releasing from the bone with barely a tug, sinks into a thick, marigold-hued curry with soft noodles hiding below the surface and a tangle of crispy noodles sitting atop, it’s contrast of textures both picture-worthy and mouth-worthy. Wings—tiny, slim, little wisps of meat—are aromatic and crispy, and shame their sloppy, saucy bar-born cousin. The fried chicken scattered across the plate and beautifully adorned with scallions, red onion, cilantro, chilies and roasted rice, is a lesson in how to make frying feel light and bright. But it’s not all meat and oil-cooked food at this window-walled, shoebox of a restaurant in a McLean strip mall; much of the menu is colorful salads with shredded papaya, green beans, tomatoes and peanut, a true taste of the rainbow.


Esaan
Thai | $$
1307 Old Chain Bridge Rd, McLean

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