There’s little question that NoVA is an excellent place to eat Thai food. From samples of fare from the Chumphon province to the whimsical trend I’ve labeled “Twee Thai,” there’s a lot to recommend in the region. But none of those restaurants was my Thai place. Fortunately, I have found precisely that in E-Saan Thai Sushi, an unprepossessing spot just down the road from Herndon’s H Mart.
I was first intrigued by E-Saan this summer when owner Thitima Juntasaen began posting photos on the restaurant’s Facebook account of herself in her garden, gathering produce for the restaurant. Farm-to-table Thai? I had to try it.
I asked my server that day which of the Northern Thai (Esaan) specialties used the most of Juntasaen’s vegetables. She pointed me to the gaeng om (spelled “kaeng aom” there), a favorite stew that I hadn’t had since leaving Houston. I’ve been able to locate just one other iteration of the dish in NoVA, at Padaek in Falls Church.
Gaeng om is a fiery concoction that pairs chiles with ingredients that I’d expect more in a Nordic dish: dill and mushrooms. Be sure to ask for it Thai hot to make sure that your bowl is authentically spicy, a key component of the dish. E-Saan’s version can be made with sliced pork, chicken, or beef, combined with a lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, zucchini, and scallions. All are sparklingly fresh. I was hooked.
Since then, I’ve been wowed by both dishes that are standards in the US and those that are harder to find. The latter category included tom zapp, an incendiary cousin of tom yum soup, filled with stewed chunks of fall-apart-tender pork ribs. The former segment of the menu has translated to an ultra-flavorful Esaan-style take on basil-redolent drunken noodles, as well as a red curry bursting with eggplant and bamboo shoots that will surely be one of my standards as the cold winter months set in.
For those, who, like me, crave both comfort and heat in their Thai food, E-Saan Thai Sushi may be your Thai place, too.
1106 Herndon Pkwy., Herndon
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