100 Best Restaurants 2011: Sabai Sabai Simply Thai

Only the top 40 restaurants were ranked in 2011's Best Restaurants list.

Vivid Thai flavors come from this tidy cafe, whose stone walls and earth tones lend a Zen-like calm. Owners Fred and CiCi Hart, the opening team behind Rockville’s Benjarong, eschew MSG and embrace freshness. Peppercorns are still on the vine, bean sprouts are always snappy, and dumpling wrappers have an al dente bite.

In dishes both familiar (Panang curry, drunken noodles) and uncommon (street fare such as Crying Tiger—slices of beef with a fiery sauce), most everything is made in-house. Extra care elevates even details such as the sweet dipping sauce, made with house-seasoned soy sauce, that accompanies plump chive dumplings. Vegetarians won’t feel overlooked—some of the menu’s best dishes are meat-free.

Also good: One of the area’s best renditions of larb, the ground-chicken salad with lime juice and chili flakes; Yum Duck Salad with lemongrass, scallions, and house-made chili paste; peppercorn shrimp; fried corn cakes with spicy cucumber dipping sauce; Floating Market Noodle Soup, lemongrass-scented broth with meatballs and rice noodles; kao kha moo, long-simmered pork leg with pickled lettuce.

Open daily for lunch and dinner. Inexpensive.

>> See all of 2011's Best Restaurants

Ann Limpert
Executive Food Editor/Critic

Ann Limpert joined Washingtonian in late 2003. She was previously an editorial assistant at Entertainment Weekly and a cook in New York restaurant kitchens, and she is a graduate of the Institute of Culinary Education. She lives in Logan Circle.