Thai Xing is the restaurant I choose when I want more than a delicious meal, when I want a haven. To me, it’s more akin to a garden than a typical restaurant. Taw Visittaboot, the creator of this experience, opened the restaurant in a row house tucked in the middle of a residential block of Florida Avenue—a busy, commercial avenue that traverses the city east to west with several blocks of old row houses that were once genteel and survived years of poverty to exist now in surprising counterpoint to the commercial sections on either side of them.
While there is a handmade wooden sign on the row house’s wall identifying Thai Xing, the sign is unlit, and nothing else marks the entrance to the restaurant, so that, even assuming you know the address, and even if you have been there before, finding the right door involves moments of hesitation, anxiety, faith. The first time I walked in I had a strong feeling that I might be walking into someone’s private house party next door to where I was supposed to be. And the most recent time I was there, once I’d located the right house, I walked down to the lower level, where I’ve always eaten before, to find it open but empty—everyone was up on the main level, where the restaurant has expanded to—but without any clear directions or markers as to where to go. The result? Once you have found the door, and opened it, and walked in among the candle-lit tables, the rich colors, the sketches and paintings, most of which I believe are Taw’s, the diners, and the spicy-sweet scent of the Thai dishes, you are hit with a sensation of relief and pleasure, as if you have stumbled upon a hidden oasis.
And then there is the food. There is no menu to order from, although you are asked whether you have any food restrictions when you make a reservation. Instead, all diners are served what Taw creates. The waitresses bring dish after dish to the table, most of them very spicy, each heart-warmingly delicious and existing in concert with the others. My favorites of my recent meal there were the cucumber soup and the squash curry. The cucumber soup, brought out early in the meal, was, unlike most of the dishes, not spicy. The thin, gentle broth had fragments of a leek-like vegetable, and in the middle, a cucumber log that, having cooked in the soup, was soft enough to easily slice with a spoon. (Have you ever had cooked cucumber before? I hadn’t.) The cooked cucumber was soft and watery, like the essence of cucumber—and stuffed within it was the surprise of minced pork. The plain broth, the refreshing, simple cucumber, and the complexly tangy pork existed in lovely contrast. And then there was the squash curry—the squash was meltingly tender but still in its skin, and the tactile scooping of the sweet flesh out of the skin, along with the sweet and spicy coconut-based curry with plenty of Thai basil lighty placed on it—it was perfection. I’ve loved Thai food for years. But every time I eat at Thai Xing I feel that all the other Thai dishes I’ve ever had have been but approximations of what Thai food is supposed to be. And that the dishes created by Taw are the real. It makes me happy to know that the restaurant exists as I go about my days, that it is only a reservation away.