Let me be honest. I was not particularly excited that a Thai restaurant was coming to Van Ness. I had come to associate Thai food in DC with cloying sweetness and unexciting menu choices. But Thai Pad, which opened in July in the old Quiznos space at 4481 Connecticut Avenue, turned out to be of a different breed.
I got my first chance to try a couple of weeks after it opened. Mary Beth Ray, an ANC commissioner and chair of the new Van Ness Main Streets, and Travis Price, a neighbor and architect who designed a community hub for Windom Place, wanted to meet at Thai Pad to talk business. I was not excited, but thought I should support a new restaurant in the ‘hood. It helped that both of them highly recommended it.
I walked in and was impressed with how the décor worked – simple with a rough-hewn wood-paneled wall on one side and a corrugated metal wall masking the restrooms in the back. The basic metal chairs and heavy wooden table tops echoed the theme.
We met Steve Imus, who manages Thai Pad with his wife, Sutasinee. Both Steve and Sutasinee are first-generation and first-time restaurateurs. Imus previously had worked six years as a server, most recently at Le Diplomate on 14th Street in Logan Circle. Sutasinee, who is Thai, has also worked as a server. Their cook worked across the street from Le Diplomate at rice.
When I looked at the menu, I saw Brussels sprouts. I had never seen Brussels sprouts on a Thai menu. And I love them when done right. My excitement may have induced some eye-rolling from my dining companions, but it was worth it. The sprouts were great, and rivaled the sprouts at Zaytinya – one of my favorite dishes there.
Then there was the papaya salad that Mary Beth ordered. When I tasted it, my tastebuds got a jolt. I was expecting an overpowering sweetness. Instead, tartness hit first, followed by just a hint of sweetness and a great crunch. Again, I was impressed.
The spicy eggplant with tofu arrived. Where the other dishes hit me with their zing, this was more subtle, a melding of hot pepper and basil in a sauce that did not overpower the eggplant and lightly fried tofu. Those were cooked to perfection without an oily residue.
As we proceeded with our dinner meeting we had to talk louder and louder. The restaurant quickly filled up. By the time we left there was not an empty table, and the restaurant appeared to be doing a brisk takeout business. And Travis was giving Steve pointers on how to arrange his future outside seating.
I hurried home to tell my husband that we needed to eat there again, and soon. Thai Pad, welcome to the neighborhood.
Thai Pad can be found at thaipaddc.com, 4481-B Connecticut Avenue NW, and 202-244-THAI (8424). It’s open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., and Sunday from 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.