Remember back to elementary school when you and every one of your friends listed pizza, ice cream, or hamburgers as your favorite food? While ice cream will always be my first love, my "grown up" list of favorite foods would also include any type of asian noodle dish. I don't care what Atkins said about noodles, I adore them. Add any sort of spicy chili sauce, plop them in a bowl that is bigger than my head, hand me some chopsticks, and I'm in heaven. If left to my own restaurant-selecting devices, chances are I will lead to you a place that serves noodles in giant bowls.
On this particular night we had a friend in town (who, despite having Atkins as a last name, is not afraid of noodles) and we were scratching our heads trying to come up with a new place to try. My inner noodle lover perked up when she said she liked thai food and I remembered a friend raving about the noodles at Bangkok Joe's. A few minutes later we were in the car on our way to Washington Harbor.
This was our first Washington Harbor experience. I've always heard that the restaurants there are overpriced and parking is hard to find so we've avoided this part of Georgetown. However, we found that parking here was much easier than near M Street. For $7 we were able to park in an office building's garage right next door to the restaurant. That is half the price of the parking at the Shops at Georgetown Park.
Bangkok Joe's features a dumpling bar (pictured above) and lively dining room that was packed with patrons on this particular Friday night. The space isn't huge, so it is wise to call ahead and, despite its harbor location, there are no water views from the restaurant.
We had to try the dumplings at a place that has its own dumpling bar. To get the full experience we started with the Assorted Dumplings (shrimp dumpling, pork n' crab shu mai, chicken potstickers, mushroom n' ginger and winter squash potstickers). I liked the assortment and the uniqueness of the squash potsticker but nothing about these blew my mind. A solid start, but no homeruns yet.
B (of course) asked the waitress what she would recommend and she went straight to the pad thai. B attempted to impress upon her that he wanted something different and really spicy. He asked "if your mom was here, what would you serve her?" She then recommended the chili seafood rice bowl but didn't believe him when he said he wanted it very spicy. She agreed to give him "medium spice" and then bring him hot sauce if it wasn't spicy enough. Sure enough, it wasn't spicy enough so out came the jars of hot sauce and chili paste. This dish was packed with seafood and I think B liked it since his bowl was empty and I never got to taste it!
I zeroed in on the menu's page of noodle bowls. For me, the fatter the noodle, the better. I liked that the menu listed descriptions for each of the noodle varieties so you knew exactly what you'd be getting. I chose the drunken chicken (stir fried sen yai noodles with chicken, sweet basil, chili and garlic sauce). I really loved this dish but it tasted exactly like the basil noodles at Asia Nine (see our thoughts here). I was convinced that the owners of Bangkok Joe's also own Asia Nine but my team of noodle researchers (thanks Thar and Gordon) was unable to uncover any connection. While the atmosphere at Bangkok Joe's is better, you could save yourself a couple of dollars and the trek to Georgetown by heading to Asia Nine and ordering the basil noodles. Both versions were excellent and make the list of my favorite DC dishes.
I really enjoyed Bangkok Joe's but I'm completely biased because I will really enjoy any restaurant that lets me eat spicy noodles out of a giant bowl. If you want a more unbiased opinion, listen to B.
Second Thoughts From B
Here's my "unbiased" take: it seems like I've eaten here before and in my book, that's not always a good thing. Once again, I'd have to say that we've found good but a not particularly unique experience. So the question remains, why choose Bangkok Joe's over any of the other options?
There are certainly other restaurants available in downtown that are just as good if not better. Most tend to be a little cheaper, too. Bangkok Joe's location has lots of parking and a beautiful waterfront walk nearby and I'm sure this appeals to some, but I'd prefer the more accessible downtown locations.
Despite my reservations, this was quite a hot spot and I'm beginning to think that I wasn't the targeted customer. When we asked for a recommendation and got, "Have you ever had pad thai?" I knew that in their eyes I was just another uncultured white guy who wouldn't appreciate authentic flavors. Big strike against them.
At the risk of once again showing my Asian food snobbery, I'll say that Bangkok Joe's is the perfect Thai answer to P.F. Chang's. Tasty, sleek, reliable, and generous portions of generic Asian inspired flavors while being slightly overpriced and crowded. Sound familiar? It should, because I bet you've - more or less - been there before.