Image: Slip Sliding Away.
Last Updated: February 2023
Soi 38 is going on nearly a decade. Pre-pandemic it was a favorite with the downtown crowd and deservedly so. It made a name for itself by highlighting Thai dishes inspired by night markets but showing they could be done in a fine dining setting. It is probably not a coincidence that it arrived at roughly the same time as Baan Thai on 14th Street (now Baan Siam in Mt. Vernon Triangle), Thip Khao, and Bad Saint. It was a moment when a surprising number of diners were willing to try new cuisines or dig deeper into familiar ones. Owners Dia Khanthongthip and Nat Ongsangkoon ran places that catered to American palates, but with Soi 38 – named for a market in Bangkok – they wanted to do the dishes without translation.
There are multiple sections to the menu, one for “Chef’s Exclusives,” another one for “Soi 38 Specialties,” and another one for the “Night Market” dishes. It may be a slight challenge to navigate but take a minute to go through the whole thing before assembling a meal. On recent visits we got Kuay Tiew Lui Suan, big, leafy rice paper rolls with minced shrimp and chicken, carrots, cucumber, and fresh basil, and a taste of summer on a cold night. Those are located under the “Rolls” section. The Kanom Jeeb under the “Warm Up” section are a classic steamed dumplings stuffed with crabmeat, shrimp, chicken, and water chestnuts. Also good year-round, but particularly satisfying in colder months is Khao Soi with egg noodles and chicken legs with meat falling off the bone in a bright, thick curry, topped with crispy noodles, which is listed under the house specialties. Soi 38 is a reminder that colors tend to pop bright on good dishes. The green of the rolls, the red of the curry – they are like primal indicators of freshness and care telling your brain to dig in.
The fine dining décor is also eye-catching, it works as a nice dinner spot, or a place to meet up with friends for drinks and snacks. On this site, we are less price-conscious, especially in the last couple years, but it should be noted that nearly all the dishes come in under $20. Considering the quality, that is an outstanding bargain for a proper dinner. And a reminder to not settle for mediocre take-out when you can have this for just a couple extra bucks. If you dine in, the bar does some serious concoctions, the wine list is sufficient, and the staff diligent. Either dining in or take-out, it is worth a trip out of the way.
Other Guidance: No need to dress up, and there are fewer business-attire folks nowadays. GF and vegetarians can do well. The restaurant entrance is at street level, though there are interior ramps to the dining and bar areas.
Neighborhood: West End/Foggy Bottom
Address: 2101 L St NW, Washington DC
Washington Post: Tom gave it 2.5 stars back in the day.
Michelin: Plate – dropped in post-pandemic listing.