“Where the f— are we,” I thought to myself as we drove up Connecticut Avenue past the Beltway into Kensington, Maryland to find what many consider to be the best Thai restaurant in the greater metropolitan area. What further catalyzed my reaction was the self-awareness that I had actually grown up in Bethesda, only a few suburban miles away. Still, I had absolutely no idea where we were and my expectations rose commensurate with each mile I drove away from my home in Northwest DC.
We finally arrived at our destination, Nava Thai, located directly off University Boulevard in Wheaton, Maryland and headed inside where we were greeted and seated by a friendly middle-aged Thai woman.
Cost – $$
Service – C+
We arrived later in the evening (about 8:45 PM) and were some of the last patrons to leave the establishment, so I’m guessing the wait staff didn’t exactly have their A-game on at this point in time. The litmus test for me was when someone in our group complained about the fact that the floating market noodle soup was served lukewarm and our server essentially shrugged their shoulders, said “OK,” and took it away without warming it back up or reimbursing us on the check. That being said, they were pretty punctual throughout the meal and delivered everything in a precise manner so I would have probably graded them higher if not for the soup fubar.
Food – B+
For starters, we had the papaya salad and mussel hot pot. I tend to like dishes with a bit of a kick and the papaya salad sat well with my palette. The blue mussels were served with a delicious spicy red pepper sauce however they were a bit over-steamed. For our main course, we had crispy duck kaprow, the floating market noodle soup served with beef and fried flounder. The kaprow was one of the best Asian dishes I’ve had in a while. As mentioned before, the soup was served at room temperature and a bit of a downer considering my expectations. The flounder was solid but nothing extraordinary.
Décor – B
The cozy interior of Nava Thai amuses me: it feels like you’re sitting in a Cracker Barrel located in rural West Virginia except instead of meatloaf, you’re eating Bar Mee Lard Na and sipping on a Lychee Martini. Maybe the proprietors realized that to simultaneously serve Thai food and design the restaurant with a Thai aesthetic would overwhelm the white folks in Wheaton, Maryland. Given the abundance of white folks sitting in the restaurant I would say their theory was accurate. That makes me wonder if there is an opportunity to build a restaurant in a Thai stilt house surrounded by stupas that serves hamburgers. Probably not.
Feel – B+
I have to admit we had a pretty fun time at Nava Thai. The place was packed and it was just a fun, lively environment for a nice dinner on a cold, wintery Thursday evening. If I lived closer I would probably visit the restaurant with some regularity. If they had just warmed up the damn soup I probably would have given the restaurant higher grades across the board.
Nava Thai is located at 11301 Fern Street in Silver Spring, MD. They can be reached at (240) 430-0495.