Simply Outstanding: Elephant Jumps Thai Restaurant in Falls Church, Virgina

I’m planning to have lunch tomorrow at Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas (not their disappointing New York location). I’ve eaten there before and enjoyed it, but wanted my current favorite Thai restaurant fresh in my mind for the comparison. So I had lunch today at Elephant Jumps Thai in Falls Church.

My boss reviewed the restaurant back on August 2nd. I was initially skeptical, as I wrote recently I do find his recommendations for strip mall ethnic food to be 100% spot on though as often as not disagree on fine dining. So while their ‘East Meets West’ menu options of croissant green curry sandwich and drunken spaghetti chicken frightened me, I went anyway back on the 7th of August. And I was blown away. I returned the following weekend, too.

I’ve been back at least every few weeks since, and have done takeout several times (the owner is excellent at suggesting which dishes will work best reheated). It did go through a brief down period. Shortly after Tom Sietsema reviewed them in the Washington Post they became very busy, they added a waitress as help and she wasn’t very good (previously the owner handled everything front of the house while his wife handled things in the kitchen). And they simply couldn’t handle the traffic it seemed, at least as quickly as it came.

Fortunately for me, and unfortunately for them, things slowed down a bit. Perhaps it’s just the amount of time since the Sietsema review (generally echoed on Yelp and on Urban Spoon), but it was no longer packed. Certainly the cold winter days have kept folks inside. I admit, I don’t like it too busy though I think they’ve learned to handle it better than they did at first. But I do want it to stay busy enough because my frequent visits alone won’t keep them in business.

On this trip (and it is a trip — bear in mind this is Thai worth driving for, and there’s a Thai restaurant directly across the street from where I live) my wife and I showed up minutes after opening, but we weren’t the first ones there. We bumped into Yana and Natasha there. Over the course of the next hour, though, only one other customer came in.

The restaurant is located in the Yorktowne Shopping Center off Gallows Road near 495. It’s tucked into the corner, near the Starbucks and the Pho restaurant.

Fortunately, once inside this 30-ish seat restaurant is nicely decorated. It’s definitely a strip mall hole-in-the-wall but it’s a nice one. Nothing dingy or old about it, it’s clean and bright and made as interesting as possible given its location. Make no mistake, while not fine dining it is a proper restaurant.

To begin, I hadn’t had my full fill of caffeine (despite 3 cups of coffee this morning), and so began with a Thai Iced Coffee.

I started with the Tom Yum Goong and my wife had the Tom Ka Gai, and we switched halfway through.

They offer several levels of spice, and they’re for the most part very serious about Thai spicy. So we ordered everything one notch below, at least everything that was meant to be spicy. So just ‘hot’. And the spicy shrimp soup certainly hot, plenty of Thai chilis chopped into it. Wonderful. The coconut milk of course cuts spice, and had a perfectly balanced sweetness and sour. I am quite proud of my own rendition on the dish, but I was happy with theirs.

One of the standout appetizers is the Roti Green Curry Chicken, I order this almost every time I come.

Surprisingly (to myself anyway) I didn’t order the Fried Papaya Spicy Salad on this visit, but I have in the past and almost every time. I’d never had chopped papaya deep friend before and it absolutely works wonderfully.

Instead, this time we tried the Crispy Salmon Salad, a full piece of salmon with onions, cilantro, galanga, and chilis.

Not my cup of tea, but my wife ordered the ‘Golden Triangle’ fried tofu. It was fine for what it is, but not something I’d ever order for myself.

Tom Sietsema was a big fan of the crispy flat bread shrimp, I’ve ordered it twice and I haven’t found a consistent opinion of it yet myself. This photo is from ordering it on a previous visit.

My favorite entrée is the Crispy Salmon, a whole piece of fried salmon over rice offered with a bowl of either Ginger Sauce or Mango Sauce. I prefer the Ginger….

… though my wife prefers the Mango.

In the past I’ve tried the Stir Fried Thai Basil Beef (excellent), the Chicken Cashew in Taro Nest (excellent), and the Chicken Aroma Coconut Rice, which is grilled marinated chicken with the best and most interesting rice I’ve ever had infused with coconut, along with thai sweet chili sauce. This last is the best for takeout in my opinion, it reheats wonderfully. Though I’ve also reheated the Crispy Salmon (though I use an oven, even a toaster, not the microwave for the salmon) successfully as well.

I’ve also tried the Stir Fried Thai Basil Scallops, which were good but I prefer the beef for this dish.

I can offer an unqualified recommendation for the Fried Curry Fish Cake, the Bean Thread Spicy Salad, Elephant Jumps Salad, the Panag Curry Chicken.. Surely there are other dishes as well

I’ve never done anything off of their “East Meets West” menu, however. Nor have I ever ordered dessert here. I have tried convincing the owner to offer bua loi, but he says that most Americans want cheesecake or other desserts they’re familiar with and if he prepared something that wouldn’t keep well like bua loi that it would go bad. My quest for bua loi (and for a Pho restaurant that serves yew char kway or whatever would be the proper Vietnamese equivalent, and for a Chinese restaurant that serves black sesame soup) continues. Though I have seen pictures of the fried banana dessert there and I suspect I may have missed out slightly by skipping dessert.

In any event, I’m well prepped to do a comparison with Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas which years ago was dubbed the “single best Thai restaurant in North America” (by Gourmet) and somehow the moniker has stuck, I’ve eaten there and Tyler likes it as well but it’ll be interesting to see how it stacks up to my current favorite one day after the other.

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, 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. I’m confused. Is this blog about expert frequent travel advice, or random restaurant praise?

    With all due respect, I started following this blog thanks to the instant Avis President’s Club status, but foresee myself checking back a little less now that the random restaurant critiques have arrived.

    I hope you’re at least getting some advertising revenue. I don’t read the restaurant reviews since I haven’t been to Virginia in years, but if they’re written as well as your travel postings, then hopefully you’re receiving some sort of comp.

  2. @Joe I write this for myself, I share my experiences and frustrations and the things that I learn. Certainly not for ad revenue. Hah.

    Read it or don’t, as you wish. I would hope that folks who find the blog valuable will read it, and those that don’t will find other pastimes that make them subjectively better off . . .

  3. Is this restaurant in the same shopping center as Pho Cyclo? Moved away from Falls Church a couple of years ago, and I think I recognize the shopping center from the pictures. Have you tried Pho Cyclo? Quick, cheap place for a speedy lunch.

  4. Will have to try this next time I’m in town. Sounds good. Have you tried Ghin Na Ree in the same area?

  5. @4Health yes same shopping center as Pho Cyclo though I usually frequent Pho 75 in the Courthouse neighborhood of Arlington.

  6. Gary,
    I live right around the corner from this restaurant and agree with you as to how good it is. I am certainly hoping that they survive as it does seem quite quiet some days. It seems quite authentic according to some of my Thai friends!

  7. Not tried that, but used to LOVE Thai Luang in Herndon on Elden St. Worth the drive there if you get a chance. Moved to Boston last February, so have not been in a while, but plenty of great restaurants here to choose from!

  8. I love restaurant reviews. Especially if I’m travelling to the area and in the need of a recommendation/something new to try. Will you be giving us an update on Lotus of Siam? We’re off to Vegas the end of this month and the menu looks great!

  9. Been here a few times and it’s on par with an above-average Thai restaurant in San Francisco or Los Angeles. That is to say, nothing special, except for the cholesterol levels.

  10. Thanks for the review, Gary. I’m going to try this one the next time I’m in the area. All the haters posting here can go suck an egg.

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