For four summers, Sense of Thai St. did tiki pop-ups. This was no simple lark. It was preparation. General manager Jeremy Ross was working with co-owners Porntipa “Pat” Pattanamekar and Parasak “Sing” Chokesatean to open a tropical sequel to the beloved Ashburn restaurant. In 2019, they signed with Reston Town Center West and began construction with a goal to debut in May of 2020. Due to the pandemic, the doors to Tiki Thai opened in December.
Sense of Thai St. is stylish, no doubt. From the drinks in custom glassware to the giant yaksha out front that guards the restaurant, the team has topped itself. Tiki Thai is simply one of the best looking restaurants in NoVA. The leafy wallpaper, the grimacing tiki totems on the wood paneling, and yes, the Hawaiian shirt-sporting robot that greets diners, all set a merry precedent that extends to the food.
“We keep getting creative. We’re just having fun with the menu,” Ross told me in advance of the opening. The fun continued, though much of the menu is the same as at Sense of Thai. Among new dishes, the standouts are a trio of tacos. Served in flaky Thai roti wrappers, a single one is just shy of being big enough for an entrée, so I recommend two for a hearty meal. Crispy shrimp is the simplest, with its base of mixed greens and Sriracha mayo. Steak and chicken larb are piled with Thai herbs, onions, guacamole, and just a touch too much of the rich lime crema. On Taco Tuesday, they’re half-price, which is a relief, as the tacos range in price from a lavish $12-$16 apiece.
But while prices are high at Tiki Thai, most dishes are worth every penny. If only service were more attentive. More than once, I saw a dish languish too long on the pass before it arrived at my table. At each of my three visits, it took significantly longer than expected to receive food.
But it’s easy to forgive once something delicious arrives. When’s the last time you had a pupu platter? For me, it was almost certainly sometime in the 1980s. It’s a Proustian thrill to set sweet Heaven Beef onto the mini grill at the center of the platter, allowing it to sear just a little bit more. Whole wings are crispier than chicken often is off the grill, but they, too, benefit from some tabletop charring. Mercifully savory coconut shrimp betray just a bit of the flavor of their signature coating. Veggie spring rolls are filler on the varied plate, but the Rangoons are not. Though they’re stuffed with cream cheese, the real crab and smoked salmon give the wontons a smoky, briny character you won’t find at your local takeout. Four chile-enhanced, but only mildly spicy sauces and a container of sticky rice accompany the apps. At $24, this buffet-on-a-wood-platter is more than reasonably priced.
The most expensive dish, the $26 crispy whole branzino is also a standout. The fried fish is served with leafy lettuce, vermicelli and a pepper-and-basil-filled tamarind-chile sauce. Diners wrap the mild, flaky fish and slippery noodles in the lettuce with a spoonful or two of the spicy sauce. It’s a whole fish, but it’s nearly impossible to stop making lettuce wraps until every bit of meat is gone.
I paired my fish with the avocado tum, a take on som tum, because the banana-blossom salad wasn’t available that day. The lightly sweet dressing is legitimately spicy, but the burst of fresh cherry tomatoes and the goosh of creamy avocado help to mitigate the heat.
The eight-item dessert menu features a number of favorites from Sense of Thai St., including the Thai tea crème brûlée. But new additions are likely to gain a following of their own. The Mango Experience, served in a faux coconut, is an upgraded mango sticky rice in parfait form. A mound of warm rice slowly melts mango ice cream that mixes with the fresh, juicy fruit and crispy mung beans.
Equally satisfying is the pandan waffle, a warm, chewy pastry covered in green custard flavored like aromatic pandan leaves. This would be enough, but thankfully, there is also coconut-chocolate-chip ice cream. A pair of strawberries completes the dish, well, almost. A toothpick with the Thai flag plunged into a blob of whipped cream is a necessary component, too.
That’s because, the truth is, you don’t need to be buzzed to have a great time at Tiki Thai. Sure, one of the two Mai Tai recipes or a Ross original like the fruity, refreshing Mintxibition can add their own level of enjoyment, but from pupu to pandan, the greatest pleasures come on a plate. // 12100 Sunset Hills Rd., Ste. 107, Reston
See this: It’s hard to choose where to look in this tiki candy land, but we especially like the origami crane lights and the custom glassware in which the drinks are served.
Eat this: Pupu platter, tacos, pandan waffle
Open daily for lunch and dinner
Appetizers: $8-$16 Entrees: $14-$26 Desserts: $8-$10 Drinks: $5-$15
★ Fair ★★ Good ★★★ Great ★★★★ Excellent ★★★★★ Superior
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