McLean / Northern Thai / $$
Northeast Thailand is the country’s largest region, but most Americans have never tasted its food. This restaurant seeks to change that, one chile-filled plate at a time.
But don’t worry. Dishes aren’t uniformly fiery hot. The som tum, or green papaya salad, comes in five different versions, each complex enough to make every bite interesting. Crunch into the som tum muor, and you’ll taste fish sauce. Then you’ll notice pork cracklings before your mouth fills with tart cherry tomato.
Other dishes, like tangy Chiang Mai sausage, are flavored with lemongrass and other herbs but are barely spicy at all. This isn’t Thai cuisine you’ll find just anywhere, but you’ll wish it were.
See This: The walls are decorated with articles written about the restaurant. Clearly, we’re not the only ones feeling the love.
Eat This: Chiang Mai sausage, som tum muor, kai yang Esaan
When to Visit: Bored with your typical Thai food? Esaan is sure to spice up your life.