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Bangkok 54, Thai on Columbia Pike in South Arlington - And, Believe It Or Not, A Second Branch in San Antonio, TX


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I stopped by with a friend for a late (8:30) dinner last week and noticed that no one's written about this place in quite a while...so here's my $.02.

Up entering the restaurant, I noticed two things. First of all, like our beloved DonRocks' experience, there were very few Asians in the restaurant. As one myself, my "authenticity meter" tends to ping a bit when I initially walk into a restaurant serving ethnic food without people of that ethnicity dining there. Secondly, I was taken aback as to how full the restaurant was (over 80%) despite given the late hour and it being a weeknight. Business is still going strong, so they must be doing at least something right!

To the food...For apps, we had the Green Papaya Salad and Larb. The salad was darn good. Crispy papaya, accentuated by the peanuts, combined with the saltiness of the fish sauce and the spiciness of the chillis; a definite winner. The larb was just as good with similar complex flavors and provided the most heat for the evening (and it proved to be quite a delicious snack the next day with toast as well).

We both were far less adventurous with our entrees as we ordered the Simple Beef Fried Rice and their special 54 Fried Rice. Well-flavored ingredients (shrimp, chicken, and beef) mixed with equally well-flavored rice made these dishes particularly satisfying as well. The friend who I was dining with (who happened to be Thai) was impressed with the authenticity of the food and said that it was just like mom used to make (blowing my initial snap judgement out of the water).

Service on our visit was very good. Our waitress was particularly attentive, but certainly not in an overbearing way. I was most impressed with her (and the other servers') enthusiasm in delivering birthday cakes and singing that dreaded song to the three tables that were celebrating that evening!

Definitely looking forward to returning and diving deeper into the menu...perhaps it may even unseat my current Thai favorite, Sawatadee.

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[posted on eGullet 2003-2004]

"I had gone to bed Henry Jekyll, I had awakened Edward Hyde." These words by Robert Louis Stevenson reflect the most recent meals I had at El Pueblo and Straits of Malaya (Straits on a Sunday), two particularly cruel examples of how it's possible for a restaurant to seemingly fall off a cliff overnight.

Dinner at Bangkok 54 was the most disappointing meal I've had in weeks if not months, because given all the recent raves about it by people I have confidence in, it never once occurred to me that it would be anything short of great.

The first thing I noticed about Bangkok 54 was how many non-Asians were dining there. When I got up midway through the meal and took a lap around the dining room, I counted 18 tables with customers, and 15 out of the 18 did not have a single Asian diner. That alone is enough to sound alarm bells clanging, but in this case it could perhaps be fallout from the recent Washington Post review.

Service was haphazard and seemingly random: our server was friendly, but twice during the meal she took so long to respond that I needed to flag her down. At one point I had to ask the woman pouring water to fill a request made ten minutes beforehand because I couldn't find the server. Out of three entrees ordered, the first two came out together from the kitchen, and the third did not appear for a good five minutes afterward.

The Green Papaya Salad was the highlight of the meal by a good margin, and was the only dish of the evening worth finishing. It had backbone and character, and is worth a repeat visit or a carryout order for this alone.

But contrast that with the Yum Pla Duk Fu salad, which was unsauced shredded lettuce, plain unchopped peanuts, slices of unseasoned raw onion, and something that was supposed to be "fried fish," but tasted more like fried dryer lint, or perhaps more accurately, fried nothing, as there was seemingly nothing there except the shreds of fried fry. The texture and flavor was slightly mitigated when an accompanying bowl of sauce was spooned atop, but the dish was simply inedible by anyone not engaged in masochism. They apparently don't offer this dish on their delivery menu because they say it doesn't transport well, but the fried fish strands arrived very close to room temperature anyway. The Yum Pla Duk Fu was dismissed as an aberration, but as I was soon to discover, the warning had just been sounded.

How can anyone mess up a Green Curry Jae, which is described as "Fried tofu, Thai eggplant, mixed vegetables and sweet basil in a green coconut-curry sauce?" Not only was the sauce sugared down, but the vegetables were bland and lifeless, the wedges of tofu were lukewarm, and the entire dish had a feeling of being "assembled" at the last minute rather than having any depth or persistence.

And yet the Shrimp Potpourri - shrimp, cellophane noodles with special house sauce served in a clay pot - was just as bad, the "special house sauce" tasting like watered-down fish sauce with sugar in it, and the "clay pot" being a cheap service vessel rather than anything adding to the dish. The shrimp themselves tasted like the frozen shrimp you buy at Whole Foods by-the-scoop, overcooked in a water-based medium so they were tough and bland, and added at the last minute - there was no integration with the rest of the dish.

But the worst plate of the evening was the special Five Spices Stewed Duck, which remains the most disastrous duck dish I have had in recent times, the half-duck served at room temperature and chopped up atop yet another sugared-down, watery, thin broth. Literally two bites of this expensive special were eaten, and the rest was left because it was simply not enjoyable, the duck being cold, soggy and uninteresting, and the sauce being westernized to the point of condescension. At the end of the meal, two different servers came up and could not understand why I didn't want to take the dish home.

I cannot reconcile the glowing reviews of people with my own experience. To put this in perspective, I've now had only one meal at Bangkok 54, and perhaps twenty meals (between dine-in and take-out) at Thai Square down the street. Though Thai Square hasn't had a 100%-success rate, I have never had anything there that was as bad as the four worst things I had at Bangkok 54.

An off night? Perhaps so, but there would have to be some pretty fundamental changes that transpired before this food could even be considered merely good.

I wanted to love it,
Rocks.

---

[Edit: This is one post I wish I never wrote. I've been back and liked it more the second time, especially the fried whole fish special, but I guess I remain in the overwhelming minority in not being able to unequivocally rave (at least for now).

By the way, have I lost my mind, or did I see another Bangkok 54 over near Del Ray?]

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I have been three times, and have never had a dish that I did not enjoy. The last time I went, I had the Kanom Jeep which was delightful. Most of the time when I see water chestnuts as an ingredient I fail to ever taste it, that was not the case in this dish. We followed it with Beef Massamun, Crispy Pork Belly & Chinese Broccoli , and the Pad Thai. The Beef Massamun was tender and with just the right amount of spice. I had to convince my wife that we should get the pork belly, but she was happy I did. The pork was cooked perfectly crispy, and it was a great matched with the brown sauce. The Pad Thai was not my favorite version. But it was servicable, and the noodles were cooked well, I just did not care that much for it. I will continue to go back when I have the craving for Thai food.

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How would you guys compare Bangkok 54 to Thai Square, down the street? We love Thai Square-- we usually get the spicy squid salad, the eggplant + tofu, and the chicken curry. I'd probably get take out once a week from there if I lived in Arlington. As a result, I can never convince my husband to check out Bangkok 54...he says he's waiting until he has an off night at Thai Square...

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Put me in the love it camp. I think I have dined there 4 times, the last being with my mamangement crew from the restaurant prior to seeing a Sondheim at the Signature. I love the place.

The best part to me is the inclusion of several dishes rarely found elsewhere, or if common, done so much better. I adore the dish with "Smelly Beans" and am always amused at how I am gently encouraged not to order it. I think the pork belley and the Som Tum are both definitely a cut above the typical. Their soft spring roll with avocado is non traditional but quite good. Given that I live in Silver Spring (and outer silver Spring at that) I am quite willing to make the hike to Bangkok54.

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Put me in the love it camp.  I think I have dined there 4 times, the last being with my mamangement crew from the restaurant prior to seeing a Sondheim at the Signature.  I love the place.

The best part to me is the inclusion of several dishes rarely found elsewhere, or if common, done so much better.  I adore the dish with "Smelly Beans" and am always amused at how I am gently encouraged not to order it.  I think the pork belley and the Som Tum are both definitely a cut above the typical.  Their soft spring roll with avocado is non traditional but quite good.  Given that I live in Silver Spring (and outer silver Spring at that) I am quite willing to make the hike to Bangkok54.

Since you're in SS and dine regularly at Hollywood East, have you also tried Ruan Thai, and how do you think it compares to BK54 and others in the Columbia Pike crowd?

And BTW, this is off topic but how's planning going for the Joe's noodle get-together? I'm psyched for that one......

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By the way, have I lost my mind, or did I see another Bangkok 54 over near Del Ray?]

Indeed, what you saw was the second Bangkok 54 grocery store. http://www.bangkok54restaurant.com/bangkok54grocery.htm

The little I know of the history of the place is that it started as a grocery store serving a little carry out, and when a space in the same building came available, the landlord offered it to the family for a restaurant.

Mr. S and I have been there 3-4 times, and it is our favorite Thai restaurant, although we claim no sophistication in that cuisine. We just like the way their food tastes.

Last time I had the duck rolls from the monthly specials menu. I loved them! My entree was also from the specials menu, and I neglected to write down what it was, but I ate every bite.

Mr. S has loved the Panang Curry andI have enjoyed one of their pork belly entrees in the past.

We usually go for lunch on Sundays, when it is not very crowded. The place is comfy, the service is good, and we do love the food.

I've been to Thai Square once, for lunch on a weekday, but it didn't grab me the way Bangkok 54 has. I've also been to the Thai restaurant across Columbia Pike from B54, which was very nice, but I like B54 best.

ScotteeM

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Since you're in SS and dine regularly at Hollywood East, have you also tried Ruan Thai, and how do you think it compares to BK54 and others in the Columbia Pike crowd?

And BTW, this is off topic but how's planning going for the Joe's noodle get-together? I'm psyched for that one......

Just tried Ruan Thai for the first time. Nice homey effort, a curtry thing with auteed greens off the lunch specials. Great to find as Supporn has fallen off a clif as far as I am concerned. The last two times we went to Supporn we walked out after 20 minutes or so and no visable service what so ever. But B54 seems to be in a different category altogether. More sophisticated and daring menu.

Still waiting for Audrey to get us a menu for the Joe's dinner adn then I will pass it to Jenna (HillValley) for posting and details etc.

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My wife and I made another trip to Bangkok 54 last night, and were quite happy with the results. We started with a "House Crispy Roll" from the specials menu. It was filled with crispy duck, scallions, cucumber, and plum sauce. It also had plum sauce swirled with mustard on the side. With the exception of the cucumbers (which I have an aversion to), this dish was quite good. The duck was not crisped like a Peking duck would be, but fried. The pancake that it was wrapped in was lightly fried to give it a crispy exterior.

We followed that with an order of Panang Chicken, and another dish off of the specials menu called "Herb, Ginger, and Sesame Beef". The Panang was far more complex than most Thai restaurants. I could actually taste the layers of flavor, without anyone over powering the other. The heat was just right for me, but a little much for my wife. The chicken was quite tender, and actually tasted like chicken. The beef dish was interesting. The menu said that it had been marinated for 24 hours, and it tasted that way. I am not sure what they marinated it in, but it was tasty. The herbs looked like parsley or cilantro, but tasted different, it did add a refreshing foil to the heat from the young ginger that was also in the dish. It like everything else we had last night was very good.

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In concept I like pork belly. It's where bacon comes from.

But I've had one too many unctuous, braised with root vegetables, too rich versions at "hatue" places.

But - Crispy pork belly with chili basil. My go-to dish at any Thai restaurant is chicken or beef kaprow. I love the heat and the garlic and everythng that you can love about Thai flavors. So I gave this a try, but I went so far as to order a second entree of Drunken Noodles just in case the pork belly was the flabby version I've had before.

But the meat proved itself to be the perfect counterpoint to the spice of the sauce. And the sauce iwas the perfect counterpoint to the rich meat. It helps cut the rich texture of the pork fat where most preparations only serve to make the mouth feel more oppressive.

I've been fortunate enough to have eaten at dozens of great restaurants here and around the country over the last eleven months. I've spent a lot of money and had too many expensive ingredients to count.

But this $9.95 dish from a store front restaurant on Columbia Pike turned out a top contender for my "Top dishes of 2005" list.

And it restored my faith in pork belly.

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NO.

One of the things I liked about the dish was the variance in the texture of the meat. Some pieces were alomst crisp while some were chewy and meaty and others meltingly tender and fatty.

Sorry you didn't like it, but give it another shot if you get a chance.

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It's interesting to me that this topic came up and I have to confess I'm so new to this board that I hesitated to relate an experience which I should have because the experience was not positive.

I work in the district and live in NoVa and by reason of necessity can't leave Georgetown until around 8 pm on Friday evenings. Consequently (thanks to this forum !) I've made it a habit to stop at Bangkok 54 for dinner many Friday nights. So many in fact that I guess I'm considered a reqular by the staff.

Last Friday I stopped and I ordered the crispy pork for the umpteenth time. Well it was QUITE different from what I was used too. Indeed there were many pieces of very overdone pork in the dish. The size of the pieces of pork were very inconsistent - in contrast to what I had enjoyed many times in the past - and the sauce was definitely not up to par.

Chalking it up to a bad night, maybe someone was sick, maybe some kind of last minute problem, who knows? I ate my dish and reflected on my many other positive experiences there to remind myself why I patronize the establishment. As we were putting on our coats a familiar host came up and asked us how we were doing. Small talk ensued and I asked if a new chef was working. Sensing my overtones a discussion of the dish took place and indeed she told me that someone different was cooking. It seems someone else in addition to the regular cook. ( Perhaps this is due to the HUGE influx of business I saw after the Post Fall Dining Guide came out online ) The staff member suggested that when I order next, I ask that the "old" chef prepare my dish. I'm not sure what kind of solution that is to what was an obvious problem, but at the time I thought to myself that I would just order regularly the next time and see where the chips fall. I think rather that avoiding a certain chef that they need to supervise the new person more closely and keep the kitchen on track. We'll see what I happens and I will endeavor to report back.

Thanks for the great forum I've learned alot here.

BD

Edited by Billy DeLion
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Went to Bangkok 54 after hearing all the rave reviews for the pork belly with chili sauce. The flavor was great but I found the pork very dry. Is this the way it's always prepared?
NO.

Well, that's how it was when I was there last night. Shards of desiccated, overfried pork belly that had seen a hot surface perhaps a few hours ago, reheated in a sauce whose tastiness barely managed to compensate for the tortuous mouthfeel of the main ingredient. We mentioned the problem to our server and received a 20% discount on our next visit--which I am not sure will ever occur.

We also had rolls (house special and crispy). These were excellent. Service was friendly but erratic. Martinis were very old school, as in 2/3 gin, 1/3 vermouth. But I like them a bit wet anyway. Inconsistency seems to be the bugaboo here.

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Tom Sietsema and Todd Kliman have both recently given Bangkok 54 three stars, people here and elsewhere whom I trust and respect have given it glowing recommendations, and after doubting myself and thinking I've been missing something all along, I went back for a fourth visit last week, and have finally reached a definitive conclusion: I'm right, everyone else is wrong, and if you don't agree with me then you need to reform your incorrect opinion.

The Issan Combo ($10.95) is a duo of the Green Papaya Salad and chicken Satay. The Green Papaya Salad has been consistently wonderful here, but no longer - iit was thin, watery, and the heat was all superficial. Two little skewers of chicken Satay were so bland they could have been boiled, and the "chili dipping sauce" didn't arrive with the dish, so they were dunked in the water from the Green Papaya Salad which at least lent them some flavor. Part of the $5.00 upcharge of the Issan Combo vis-a-vis the individual Green Papaya Salad ($5.95) is a bowl of sticky rice. The rice arrived fresh out of the microwave - they forgot to take the plastic off, and it was still shrink-wrapped - it's amazing that hermetically-sealed microwaved sticky rice could still manage to be dry, but somehow, after being unraveled from its plastic casing, it was.

This year's award for chutzpah goes to the person who wrote the menu description for one of the "house specialties" (on a separate menu) - Salmon with Country-Style Panang Curry was described as being a "moderately hot red "˜Panang' curry" which "is tamed" - tamed! - "with coconut milk and perfumed with kaffir lime leaves and the bright sea flavor of fresh salmon, nestled on a bed of herbed-soy flavor infused green vegetable noodles ($16)." Sounds pretty good, right? The bowl came out, and there was basically a sauceless, green, herbed pasta in the bottom, with a large, dry, lukewarm fillet of salmon sitting on top with no signs of spicing whatsoever. It had the texture of day-old steamed swordfish, and was the single blandest piece of salmon I've had in months if not years. Ladled - or squirted - on top was some sort of sweet-ish sauce which tasted Polynesian. That's it, that's the dish. This is precisely the level of quality I would expect from a Holiday-Inn catered banquet that had an "Asian Night" theme.

A more pleasant dish was the 54's Spicy Roasted Duck ($12.95) which was about fifteen bite-sized pieces of meat, seemingly dry rubbed. It arrived warm, not hot, but still retained its crispiness and flavor interest even as it cooled to room temperature. Like the other dishes here, it came with a garnish of chopped iceburg lettuce, cold carrot squiggles, and bad tomatoes. This dish was good, not great, but was the the highlight of the meal by far - it reminds me of a smaller, less-expensive version of Peking Gourmet Inn's Szechuan Beef Proper.

And speaking of Chinese restaurants, the Pad Phrik Khing Jae ($7.50) is described as wok-fired "string beans, fresh kaffir lime leaves and mixed seasonal vegetables in a spicy chili paste sauce." Like much of this meal, this dish of uninteresting, sweet-and-vaguely-spicy, stir-fried vegetables (pea pods, chopped broccoli, carrots, baby corn, etc.) could easily be mistaken for something other than Thai, and is emblematic of the confused and pandering nature of the food coming out of this kitchen.

Bangkok 54 isn't "bad" so much as it is ordinary - it's certainly the most overrated Thai restaurant in the Washington, DC area right now. If you want Americanized fare that's Thai in name only, go to Crystal Thai on Route 50 or Paya Thai in Vienna - both are better and more satisfying than Bangkok 54.

Cheers,
Rocks

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couldn't agree with you more DonRocks.

I love the space, its beautifully done with modernistic simplicity while still retaining an ethnic flavor. I always stop for a few minutes at the open kitcken in the rear.

I love pork belly and after reading Bilrus's all thums up post gave it a shot. The pork was so crisp ( dry?) that I had a tough time chewing and the sauce was nothing to write home about and too little at that. Perhaps it was the chef's night off.

My vote goes to Po-Siam in Alexandria ( they do not have pork belly though).

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I love pork belly and after reading Bilrus's all thums up post gave it a shot. The pork was so crisp ( dry?) that I had a tough time chewing and the sauce was nothing to write home about and too little at that.

Sorry to have led you astray bbhasin - I still have it in my head that this was a good dish. I remember a balanced dish with a mix of textures. Chewey, crisp, gelatenous. Other reports lead me to believe that consistency is a problem with this dish. I need to try it again soon.

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Sorry to have led you astray bbhasin - I still have it in my head that this was a good dish.  I remember a balanced dish with a mix of textures.  Chewey, crisp, gelatenous.  Other reports lead me to believe that consistency is a problem with this dish.  I need to try it again soon.

No you don't. The last couple of times I have had it there it has been the crispy version described above. Not sure why it has changed, but it is not nearly as good as what was once there.

As a side note, I had the same dish at another Thai restaurant (name forgotten, but in Fairfax near the courthouse) and it was cooked in the same crispy manner. sad.gif

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Bangkok 54 is one of our favorite restaurants, and the pork belly with Chinese broccoli is one of my favorite dishes there. When we were there in February for a Sunday lunch, the pork belly was not quite as good as I remembered--it was tough in places--but not awful. The duck rolls were delicious, and Mr. S's shrimp Panang curry was wonderful and complex.

Reading the recent comments, I decided to take one for the team and I went for lunch last week. The regular waitress was absent, and I heard another server tell a customer that she is on vacation.

I ordered the pork belly with Chinese broccoli from the lunch combination. The egg roll that accompanied it was fresh tasting and crisp with fresh cabbage. The pork belly was better last week than in February. It was crisp and moist and with a bit of chewiness that I wouldn't call tough--what I expect it to be. The sauce was tasty, and not overbearing, and the broccoli was fresh and crisp.

I was a little amused by a couple sitting nearby, who tried to ask the waitress whether they serve Sesame Chicken, since they didn't see it on the menu. After a brief conversation, they got up and left, apologizing. Either they meant to go into the Chinese restaurant next door, or they didn't realize that this isn't a Chinese restaurant. ;)

I'll go back for lunch at Bangkok 54 again soon. I expect I'll continue to find enjoyment there.

Of course, I don't have any taste in Thai cuisine, and the fact that I like the food here is no guarantee that someone who knows and loves Thai cuisine will love this food. I still like it better than Rincome, Thai Square, TK Thai, and Sakoontra (which was downright bad on my last visit in January--I left most of my food and took nothing home).

Mr. S is heading to Bangkok on a layover as he heads to Bhutan next month (for a much-needed vacation), so perhaps he'll come home with more of a point of reference about Thai food, and then set me straight. <_<

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I'm headed to Bangkok 54 tonight with some friends and I haven't been since maybe around December. Has anyone been recently that can comment on what dishes are still up to par? I'm tempted by the pork belly, but since the reviews from winter and early spring weren't so good, maybe it's best to stay away.

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My wife and I are semi regulars here. We have notice over the past that the food has not been consistent, however over the past few visits I get the sense that they have resolved what ever issue they had. For dinner last night we have the house special duck rolls, curry puffs, calamari, house pork stew, drunken noodles, with chicken,and pork with eggplant. All were perfectly prepared, hot and flavorful. I would recommend that people who have stayed away , give it another shot. The decent wine list is a draw and kept us coming back when things were not 100%.

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Bangkok 54 for lunch yesterday. From their special, "Thai Restaurant Week" menu, I had an appetizer of chicken meat balls, which were light, tasty, coated and deep fried. The spicy sauce that accompanied them added new dimensions, but the meatballs were delicious on their own as well. Also had marinated flank steak, which was sliced, marinated, grilled, sauced, and served over stir-fried baby bok choi and shiitake mushrooms. One of the best parts: having half of the flank steak to look forwad to for lunch again today.

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Spicy Roasted Tofu

That's what keeps me going back over and over.

I'd love to have this dish somewhere else, just for variety, you know? But I have yet to find it made like this anywhere else.

Has anybody familiar with the dish found it on another menu?

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Should I try Bangkok 54 down the street? At least they have parking.

I've only had one experience with Bangkok 54, a few years back, when I went to a friend's house and that was where she ordered from. My recollection was that all the sauces tasted very, very sweet. So, my reaction would be "no," based on your sauce comment.

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Went here on Friday night. Had the fried chicken with papaya salad- the fried chicken was good, crispy, well flavored, the batter tasted like it had a little five spice in it. I really enjoyed it. Papaya salad was good, although I like some other versions a little better. This one had a good bit of peanut and wasn't quite as crispy. We had started with meatballs and duck rolls. I liked the meatballs- bad for you in a great way. The duck rolls were too sweet and not crunchy enough for me.

Hubby got basil fried rice I think it was. It was spicy, but really really good. We both liked this a lot, spicy, but kind of like comforting.

We didn't order anything very outgoing, we were just in a mood to have something familiar, but a little different from normal. But it was good. This is one of those places we could go and get something different, but can also bring picky eaters and everyone is happy and likes the vibe.

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On a note, the five spice beef here with broccoli is nowhere close to as good as the knuckle stew with five spice over at Thai Square, but it was ok. Some pieces were really tender, some were not as much, the flavor of the broth had a nice five spice taste to it, but the beef stock just wasn't very strong coming through. Just a little to subtle in flavor. Panang curry with chicken was pretty tasty. Not very spicy, well seasoned and flavored.

Duck spring rolls- meh, will not order these again, I forgot what they tasted like from last time.

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Source: DonRockwell.com

bangkok54.jpg

Image: Bangkok 54

DonRockwell.com user Biscuit Girl relays a report from WJLA that there was a fire at Bangkok 54 overnight. The report notes only that "Firefighters worked through the night putting out a fire at a restaurant in Arlington. They were called out to "˜Bangkok 54"² in the 2900 block of Columbia Pike for a report of a fire in the duct work. They quickly knocked the fire down, but were on the scene for a while longer putting out hot spots. No one was hurt." No word yet on whether the restaurant will be closed as a result or for how long.

Read full article >>

All the news that's fit to print . . .

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According to arlnow.com, they opened for lunch today as usual.  FWIW, I think Bangok 54 surpassed Thai Square some time ago.  We eat here several times a month.  It is solid, consistent and delicious.  Glad to hear there was no permanent damage to the restaurant. 

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According to arlnow.com, they opened for lunch today as usual.  FWIW, I think Bangok 54 surpassed Thai Square some time ago.  We eat here several times a month.  It is solid, consistent and delicious.  Glad to hear there was no permanent damage to the restaurant. 

I feel the need to remind people what an old fart I am, and to mention that "surpassing Thai Square" within the past few years is like passing a race car pulled over with a flat tire.

Thai Square was hands-down, indisputably, the best Thai restaurant the DC area has ever seen. And then something - I know not what - happened to it.

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I went by there yesterday to see what was up. The grocery is closed, but the restaurant was open and the parking lot was full (this was around noon). I use this grocery at least 3 times a week, so this is upsetting. I hope they are able to reopen soon. I have never eaten at the restaurant, but the grocery has a take-out section of prepared dishes, sweets, and snacks. They have a large variety of nam prik (chilli sauces for raw and cooked vegetables), curries (esp. Southern Thai curries that are not usually on Thai restaurant menus here, e.g. Gaeng Tai Pla, fish innards curry), Southern Thai stir fries like Kua Kling. They have a hot food section that has "street food", including a very good Pad Thai, Khao Mun Gai (the Thai version of Hainanese Chicken rice), Ba Mee Mu Dang ("dry" roast pork garlic noodles), pork jerky with sticky rice, grilled chicken, deep fried whole fish, fish cakes, Isaan sausage with sticky rice and vegetables. On the weekends they sometimes have specials like Kao Soi (northern Thai chicken curry with egg noodles), Khao Mok Gai (Southern Thai version of chicken Biryani), Palo (stewed pork leg in five spice). The cooking has always been solid and I assume they share the kitchen with the restaurant.

BTW any place with stir fried stink beans on the menu (pad sataw) can't be too Americanized. 

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BTW any place with stir fried stink beans on the menu (pad sataw) can't be too Americanized.   

I'm willing to believe it has changed - it's been a long time since I've been which is why I was so tempted to go the other evening. This and Ethiopic are the two restaurants I want to try again due to such an inexplicable divergence of opinion between me and various area critics. One thing I am absolutely certain of, though: when Bangkok 54 first opened, it was pandering to the American palate in a big way. Then again, Thai Square was a legitimately great restaurant around that time, too - things change.

ETA - I just read through this entire thread again, and got a visceral, odious reminder of my cringeworthy meals here. The fourth meal was the redwood tree that broke the camel's back, and reminds me that I've got my own standards, and my own palate, both of which are *very* different (I'm not saying they're better; just different) than various area restaurant critics. That has not changed, and is not going to change. Once is an aberration; four times is an abomination - I am as confident as I am with any restaurant I've ever reviewed that I reported my experiences at Bangkok 54 accurately, fairly, and - to the extent that something subjective can be "correct" - correctly.

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My disagreement about Bangkok 54 with local critics, as well as with many diners, goes back over ten years, and continues to this very day. At the risk of losing readership, I urge people who think that Bangkok 54 is a superior Thai restaurant to set me aside as a restaurant critic, and to rely on other peoples' opinions instead. I say this not to be belligerent, but to be consumer-friendly.

Twice recently, I have retried Bangkok 54, and I'm sorry to say that my opinion has not changed much at all. That said, it seems to be bustling with a healthy business, and I'm happy that diners seem to be enjoying it. Note that they're open 7 days a week, from 11 AM to 10 PM (11 PM on Fridays and Saturdays), and that they deliver in a limited area with a minimum of $20 and no delivery charge.

Thai Curry Puff ($6.95) is something I occasionally enjoy at Thai Noy and Bangkok Golden, and also an appetizer that could easily be purchased pre-made rather than formed in-house, although I have no particular reason to believe this, other than that this is the type of thing that wholesalers tend to make. A vegetarian appetizer, filled predominantly with potatoes and a mild, sweet curry spice, these Three Little Puffs are served here with a typically thin, sweet cucumber-pickle "relish," and the innards are a bit darker, and slightly sweeter, than your standard version, perhaps due to a bit of tamarind - or they may even be sweet potato. These are worth ordering, and plenty for two to share, although you'll need to slice the third one down the middle.

Tom Ka with Chicken ($4.25) is a respectable version of this staple soup, which remains a consistently good value from restaurant to restaurant. Bangkok 54's is a bit on the sour side (a good thing, given that it's cut with coconut milk), but other than that, it's a very standard version of Tom Ka Gai, perhaps with a touch more fish sauce than some - I adore this soup when a restaurant serves it in that torus-shaped aluminum soup bowl with a flame in the middle (does anyone know the name of this vessel?)

"That should be illegal" was the response from my friend when I told her that Bangkok 54 didn't offer Pad Woon Sen, which is her favorite Thai dish. However, Spicy Noodle Salad ($7.95) came fairly close. Offered as a room-temperature appetizer, it's cellophane noodles with minced shrimp and chicken, seasoned with "exotic spice and cilantros," and without seeing the description, my friend mentioned that it came with quite a bit of cilantro. The first thing I noticed about this is how much liquid was in it, and that liquid seems to be predominantly lime juice, as this is one of the more lime-focused dishes I've had in quite some time. This is by no means Pad Woon Sen, but it's an enjoyable appetizer that's more the size of a small entree, although it contains only one or two shrimp; there's a fair amount of minced chicken, however.

Spicy Catfish Curry ($13.95) had disks of somewhat dried out catfish, in a red curry sauce, with baby corn, Thai eggplant, snow peas, and young peppercorns (two bunches in the dish). While this dish had some potential, and the amount of catfish was fairly generous, it came across as an extremely generic, middle-of-the-road entree which could have come from most any Thai restaurant.

54's Spicy Duck ($15.95) consisted of deep-fried strips of duck meat, quite dry, sauteed with fresh chili, garlic sauce, and crispy basil leaves. While this is the only item on Bangkok 54's menu that is marked, "Must Try!" my companion - who has a budding interest in the culinary arts but is not an expert - did not recognize the meat as duck. This, despite the heavily battered strips being quite hefty in size. This is a dish that needs to be had shortly after preparation, as the garlic sauce quickly attacks the crispiness of the fried batter.

My favorite dish of the two visits, by far, was the Yellow Chicken Curry ($12.95), which I enjoyed so much on the first visit that I ordered it again on the second - on both occasions, it was worth ordering, and even a bit better on the second visit as the chicken was more tender. It's slightly on the sweet side, and contains cubes of fairly dry, boneless chicken meat, brought to life in a mild, yellowish kari curry paste (an Indian-influenced Thai curry that is close in spirit to a Massamun dish) - it comes with an optional order of Roti ($2), a griddled bread which really isn't optional, as it's fantastic with this entree - cut into little wedges in the shape of pie slices, it takes this good dish, and turns it into a very good dish. It's going to be difficult for me not to order this the next time I try Bangkok 54.

After these two visits, I cannot justify saying Bangkok 54 is anything more than a decent Thai restaurant, dressed up to appear a bit more formal than your typical strip-mall mom-n-pop Thai. Two fairly important reviews from over ten years ago appear to be allowing this restaurant to ghost surf, but you should not be swayed into thinking Bangkok 54 is anything more than "good" - I cannot rank it in Italic, and so it must remain as before.

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One advantage Bangkok 54 has is a full bar.  If you are taking someone out to dinner who needs a cocktail, and you've convinced them to go to a Thai restaurant, go here over Thai Square.

(This may read awful, but I sometimes have to find restaurants for someone who likes a cocktail as part of dinner, so I'm aware of this stuff.)

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No reviews in 3 years?

I was hosting a group of millennials at my firm for lunch, and they chose Bangkok 54. I was the check-picker-upper, and I didn't dissuade them -- Thai Square is only a few blocks away, but what the heck, I hadn't tried Bangkok 54, so why not?

I would say it was OK. My dish was the lunch special chicken krapow with a fried egg. I was a little surprised that the fried egg was demolished to the point of being a McDonald's-type hard chunk of yolk, and also with over-fried edges. The flavor of the chicken krapow was good, and mixed with the dome of rice it came with, was a decent-sized serving for a lunch. The egg was a puzzle. Maybe I'm missing a Thai nuance here.

One of my companions was native Cambodian, and he enjoyed the same dish better than I did. Another companion was native Nigerian, and he had a "Thai-spicy" drunken noodles with tofu. There were mostly empty plates all around.

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5 minutes ago, Kibbee Nayee said:

No reviews in 3 years?

Thai Square is only a few blocks away

I would say it was OK.

Therein lies the answer: I've been to Thai Square probably ten times in the past year (the quality took a vacation for a good decade, but it's really good again); I haven't been to Bangkok 54 since my previous review, and just cannot bring myself to go. Sigh, maybe I'll kick the football yet again.

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I haven't gone to the restaurant side of BKK 54 in some time, but I really enjoy the bowls of soup they serve in the noodle shop next door. It is in the back of the BKK 54 grocery store and they only have 2 or 3 dishes on the menu wall. If memory serves, they are pork noodle, duck noodle and beef noodle soup. I think the pork noodle soup is Moo Nam Tok, but I may be wrong about the name. It comes with a variety of meat and meatballs, with the signature Thai pork rinds to add a bit of flavor and texture. It eats kind of like Floating Market soup, really rich and flavorful. I think it is still $8, so a great bargain. They also have bubble tea but the soup is the real deal.

On edit:  I said that the Muu Nam Tok eats like Floating Market soup, and then I took a look at the photo I took of Thai Square's Floating Market soup, and it looks nearly identical to the cheaper bowl of soup I get at BKK 54 Grocery Store. Same variety of meat and meatballs, same pork rinds, nearly the same appearance overall. But I think that the Floating Market soup is beef based at Thai Square. Interesting. Or maybe they gave me the wrong soup at BKK 54? The bill pretty clearly said Muu Nam Tok...

MooNamTok.jpg

Edited by ziv
New info on similar dish at Thai Square
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