Elephant Jumps Thai in Northern Virginia Getting Even Better With New Dishes

About two and a half years ago I first wrote about my favorite Thai restaurant in the DC suburbs, Elephant Jumps in Merrifield.

Regular readers know this place and word has certainly spread. I understand that some of the bloggers from First2Board organized a lunch there before the start of Frequent Traveler University at the end of April.

There aren’t a ton of places that age well, and admittedly after it first got popular it had a few ups and downs especially with service (they were learning to staff properly and handle getting busy).

They worked through the bumps well, and I kept going back. And going back. I had pretty much everything on the menu except for their Thai-Western fusion dishes which just didn’t appeal to me. This is a hole in the wall family Thai restaurant owned and staffed by creative people. But I go for their rendition on Thai food (the family is from Bangkok), not for their take on Western dishes.

What that means is that I’ve had their crispy salmon salad (fried diced salmon with onion, scallion, cilantro, galanga, and chili sauce) and their fried papaya spicy salad (fried shredded papaya, with fresh tomato, lime juice, peanut, shrimp, and chili sauce) countless times.

Every so often you just need to mix it up a little. For me that could mean Laotian food every now and again…

Fortunately the owner has been experimenting with new dishes to add to the menu. They often have specials on the weekend though those have remained constant for as long as I can remember (the mussels and the soft shell crab are both excellent).

Every so often I’ll go in and the owner will share some of what they’re working on. One of the best things I’ve ever eat is their Nam phrik ong (Northern Thai chili with minced pork and tomato).

This weekend I got my first taste of several of the new items they’ve been working on. They’re making new menu items as specials sometimes starting on Thursday but usually for Friday and Saturday, maybe Sunday.

Here was the specials board. We went ahead and ordered all five. The photos are all just taken with my phone, I did not have a camera with me. I wasn’t expecting the treat that I was in for.

Yum Pla Dook Foo is ‘Crispy Fish with Mango Salad’ in this case a chopped tuna that’s then fried. The texture was incredible and fascinating.

Hung Lay Curry was my favorite dish of the day. Burmese-influenced, this Northern thai curry doesn’t contain any coconut. It has a wonderful aroma of garlic and ginger, and has a flavor not entirely unlike massaman although it’s not a massaman.

Larb white bass with a sauce similar to larb you may be more familiar with, but a bit more intense, it’s served with a whole filleted deboned piece of bass. The contrast between the spicy larb sauce and mild fish was interesting, but to me the bass didn’t quite hold up — too much of a contrast to the rest of the complex flavorful dishes, I think some of the subtlety of the fish was probably lost on me.

Ka Nom Jeen is a fermented rice noodle service with curry. It’s also Buremese-influenced, and here was offered with a seafood curry that was fantastic.

Here’s how ka nom jeen is done in Phuket Town.

Mussel in Clay Pot, this is a staple of their specials and something I order all the time. The mussels are huge and the broth they are in is fantastic. It’s “Thailand in a pot” to me.

Finally, the owner brought out the ‘staff dessert’ they had made, something not on the menu (and not being considered to add). It was a baby banana, sort of caramelized, in coconut and palm sugar over ice.

Here’s how it was presented:

And then you mix it together before eating:

All in all a fantastic late weekend lunch. I’m thrilled, too, because while Elephant Jumps always delivers and everyone I send there is happy, I go often enough that it’s great they’re working to introduce new dishes.

Finally, here I am a few weeks back cooking Tom Kha Ghoong (coconut soup with shrimp) and Gai Phad Med Mamuang (Thai cashew chicken).

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. How convenient that there’s a CVS next door. Wonder if that’s a combo trip for you, as I know that lately your home base CVS has not had any VR’s.

  2. Great post. Living in Arlington, VA I have made the “trek” out to Elephant Jumps a few times. It is good Thai food that you just can’t get closer to DC.

  3. @Jung – I can almost guarantee it. That said, VR distribution in NoVA has been weird lately; I’ve been seeing them in places I never have previously, while old go-to locations have gone dry…

    Still need to make it to Elephant Jumps for the first time though.

  4. I am disappointed you didn’t discuss in excrutiating details meals you ate there 5, 10, 15 years ago.

  5. Wow, those look amazing! Thanks for the menu update and shout-out.

    Is it worth the effort to make Thom Ka Gai at home? It’s my fave by far (besides mango and sticky rice, when they can get Thai mango in season). Their green curries stand out as well, IMO.

  6. @Jung and CW: On the Vanilla front, I’ve spotted a bunch at 7-elevens in Fairfax.

  7. @Dia – I actually ENJOY thai cooking at home, drop by Grand Mart for the ingredients and make a few dishes.

  8. hi gary i sincerely suggest you eat less (or more healthy) and exercise more to lose weight..am i the first to suggest you this in the boarding area..?

  9. We are at George Mason for our son’s track meet. Thanks to your blog, we knew exactly where to go for lunch. The Hung Lay Curry at Elephant Jumps was awesome. Worth a trip from Severna Park just to eat there.

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