One of my favorite shows on television is Throwdown! with Bobby Flay. Each episode, Flay identifies a chef who makes the best specialty food — from buffalo chicken wings to muffalleta sandwiches — and then challenges him or her to a “throwdown.” It pushes Flay to step outside of his grilling comfort zone while allowing some unknown, but highly qualified local cooks, a shot at beating an Iron Chef (on Food Network, no less).
A couple weeks back, Flay visited Thai Basil to take on Chef Nongkran Daks during a pad thai throwdown. As a fan of spicy, southeast Asian foods, this episode was one of my favorites. So, when we learned that Thai Basil was actually in Chantilly, Virginia — about a 25 minute ride from D.C. — we knew where we’d be having lunch today.
Thai Basil sits in an unpretentious strip mall not far from Dulles Airport. The decor inside is simple; a couple of conical hats line the walls, local newspaper articles boasting the restaurant’s accolades sit beneath the glass tabletops. But we hadn’t come for the atmosphere; we had come for the pad thai. After a couple of appetizers, including Som Tam, a crispy shredded papaya salad with spicy chili-lime dressing, we geared up for the real deal: the shrimp pad thai.
We agreed that the noodles were cooked perfectly and the sauce was a delicious balance of sweet, sour, spicy and tangy. The lime added a nice citrus flavor and the peanuts and bean sprouts offered some additional texture. Served with a hot sauce sampler, it was just perfect.
I’m no restaurant critic, but I’ve ate at my fair share of Thai restaurants — including those in Thailand. And, I’ve got to say, Nongkran knows what she’s doing.
Her pad thai is the best I’ve had.