At a friend’s suggestion, I ordered the Crispy Duck with Sweet Basil Leaves at Herndon’s Thai Luang, on Elden Street (behind Cardinal Bank). I was a “believer” at first bite, as each of the crispy pieces of tender dark meat were swirled in a blend of intense flavors—garlic, chili sauce, fresh red and green chilies and sweet basil leaves—and I adore fresh Thai basil. I could not put my chopsticks down. When I finally came up for air, our server smiled and commented, “It is our most popular dish.” Now I understand why this restaurant, with its only location in Herndon, is so popular.
This “taste of authentic Thailand” restaurant is celebrating their 20th year in their current location, and from stampede of people eating lunch there, it is gaining in popularity. Their deft use of Thai chili, lemon grass and other authentic herbs and spices makes this restaurant superior to all of the others in the area. This is why my friend, who spent a lot of time in Thailand, likes this restaurant so much.
Dinner crispy duck specials are $19.99 to $22.99, but lunch portions (very generous) are only $10.99 and it includes an oriental salad as well as hot soup (chicken or lemon grass). For just the two of us, we could have easily split the dinner portion, it was that large. The lunch soup selections are both delicious, as was their crunchy salad. Sodas or hot tea are only $1.99 (a whole pot of tea, not just one cup).
Service is prompt and attentive, even in the busy noon rush. The owner is usually behind the bar area and keeps an attentive eye on her customers (she cruised through the dining room past our table when she saw I was taking a lot of pictures). The owner is Muttika Setapayak, a native of Thailand and a graduate of the famous Oriental Hotel School of Thai Cooking in Bangkok.
According to their menu, crispy boneless duck is first boiled until the meat is completely cooked (and cooking off a lot of the fat that is naturally just under duck skin). Then it is deboned and marinated overnight, then prepared as the dish ordered. “We serve a lot of crispy duck here,” our server said.
Crispy Chicken with Basil and Fresh Chili is another one of our favorite dishes ($19.99 at dinner) and is very tender bites of chicken breast, marinated with Thai herbs, breaded and sautéed with chili sauce, garlic, red and green chili and sweet basil leaves.
I could stop right here and just tell you that everything that I have ordered in this restaurant has been outstanding.
For the beginning of a meal, I recommend the Som Tum (green papaya salad), and specify the hotness. This is a generous pile of very crunchy shredded papaya, with shredded carrots, and has a lightly sweet-sour dressing with crushed peanuts on the top, served on a bed of lettuce. It is perfect shared at the beginning of a dinner (along with a soup course), for $7.25.
My college sons rave about their chicken in peanut sauce ($9.95). It is a stir-fry of chicken drenched in a fantastic peanut sauce. (It also can be ordered with beef or pork.) They sell their homemade peanut sauce in jars, and it is perfect as a salad dressing or a topping for grilled pork or chicken.
Remember that you are dealing with Thai “hotness” in these selections, and always specify “mild” if you do not want your mouth to burst into flames. One “red pepper” translates to mild in their menu, two peppers is medium, three peppers is “American” hot, and four peppers is Thai hot. Order Thai hot at your own risk. Believe me, this is not a cuisine to test your masculinity in degrees of hotness, as for the unacquainted, it can cause extreme pain because it is wicked hot.
For a group, save room for dessert and try their Mango with Sticky Rice or Green Tea ice cream. The sticky rice is very sweet, and the perfectly-ripe fan of mango slices make a few bites of this the perfect ending to a meal with friends.