Tom Yum District: D.I.Y. Thai

Tom Yum District brings terrific noodle and rice bowls—you pick the toppings—to Rosslyn.
It’s tough to go wrong at Tom Yum District. Here, pad Thai is piled with grilled shrimp and fresh herbs. Photograph by Scott Suchman.
It’s tough to go wrong at Tom Yum District. Here, pad Thai is piled with grilled shrimp and fresh herbs. Photograph by Scott Suchman.

The comparisons to ShopHouse were inevitable. But Tom Yum
District chef/owner Aulie Bunyarataphan says she came up with the idea to
do a Chipotle-style spot long before the burrito chain debuted a Southeast
Asian version of itself in 2011.

Bunyarataphan recalls walking into a Chipotle years ago and
thinking: “I can do this with Thai food.” Inspired, she began
experimenting with lunch specials at T.H.A.I. in Shirlington and Bangkok
Joe’s, the modern Thai eateries she owns with husband Mel Oursinsiri,
developing pared-down renditions of dishes that could be assembled to a
customer’s specifications.

Being first isn’t everything. ShopHouse—which premiered in DC’s
Dupont Circle and recently opened in Georgetown—serves noodle and rice
bowls that are fresh but can taste muddled if you throw together the wrong
ingredients. At Tom Yum District, bold, clean flavors shone through in
every combination of bases (noodles, rice, or salad), proteins, sauces,
and toppings we tried—it’s virtually impossible to wind up with a dish
that tastes bad.

Unctuous “drunken” sauce, laced with chilies, perks up a
mixture of nutty brown jasmine rice, jiggly cubes of organic tofu, and
bits of omelet. Tender hunks of grilled steak taste great over pad Thai
noodles with the house Tom Yum sauce—which mimics the flavor profile of
the hot-and-sour soup by the same name. (Spice lovers should ask for a
spoonful of off-menu, house-made chili sauce to amp up the
heat.)

Health-minded diners can compose an excellent weekday salad
from Asian mixed greens, juicy shrimp drizzled with white-wine/orange
vinaigrette, cucumber relish, mixed herbs, and a topping of crunchy
peanuts. Prices are attractively low—dishes max out at $7.95—and a
selection of dumplings is on the way, so it’s hard to imagine Tom Yum
District won’t be a hit among the neighborhood lunch crowd. With a
location slated for downtown DC and a franchise plan for the future, it’s
poised to give ShopHouse a run for its money.

A version of this article appears in the October 2013 issue of Washingtonian.

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