50 Best Restaurants: Don’t expect pad thai at Esaan

But do not fret, you’ll find the flavors of Northern Thailand at this McLean location, and they won’t disappoint.

Photo courtesy of Esaan

By Stefanie Gans and Rina Rapuano


McLean | Thai | $$

There’s no pad thai on the menu here. In fact, many of the Thai staples American diners have come to know are conspicuously missing. While some might be put off by this, others will appreciate the opportunity to climb out of the green curry rut and revel in the spicy, sour, herbal and fish sauce-scented dishes of Northern Thailand.

Carnivores should not even consider leaving this place without trying the spicy grilled pork shoulder—slices of tender meat loaded with dried and fresh chiles, fresh mint and cilantro, onion and fish sauce. Cracked, toasted rice lends a nice crunch to the jumble. Other menu wins include a starter of tiny chicken wings brightened by lemongrass and an array of aromatics; a whole fried rockfish piled high with cashews, ginger and chiles all swimming in a puddle of pungent fish sauce; and a dessert of coconutty, sweet sticky rice (sporting a fun blue color thanks to butterfly pea flower) topped with a creamy Thai custard. // 1307 Old Chain Bridge Road, McLean

This post originally appeared in our November 2019 issue’s 50 Best Restaurants cover story. For more food reviews, subscribe to our weekly newsletter.

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