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March 23, 2009

A touch of spice with a bit of rice

by Lucas Alvarado-Farrar, Online Features Editor
Downtown Silver Spring gets boring fast. With a limited number of restaurants not attached to a national franchise chain, there are few options for unique food in the burgeoning "hang-out" district. Gotten sick of Potbelly's? Tired of Chipotle? Interested in something beyond the company of Noodles? Nestled a few blocks from the pulsing heart of Silver Spring lies Thai Derm, a lovely little exotic kitchen.

Founded in 1983, Thai Derm has a long tradition of homey, family-style service and is one of the region's oldest Thai restaurants. With its minimal advertising, house-like appearance and location away from Ellsworth Drive, it is unlikely to get much foot traffic, but it is well worth the two-block walk.

The welcoming hostesses and rooms adorned with Thai chachkas lend to the feeling of being dropped in the family's dinning room. With low lights, classical Thai music and the sound of running water from a homemade rice patty diorama, a cozy, warm ambiance sets in.

The restaurant is almost never full, but it maintains a constant flow of families, couples and lone diners. The limited number of patrons allows the serving staff to pay special attention to your needs, offering detailed descriptions and personal opinions on dishes.
This deep fried pork in a wonton skin is served with a sweet and tangy red splash.
This deep fried pork in a wonton skin is served with a sweet and tangy red splash.

Upon opening the menu, you encounter a wide variety of options that stem from the traditional cuisine of central Thailand. To add an authentic flare, the entree titles are featured in Thai script accompanied by the name in Western lettering. While many of the dishes have similar descriptions, each has a unique twist of flavor that is subtly noted.

Before diving into the entrees, the appetizer menu is an obligatory stop. For only $2.95, three delectable, vegetarian spring rolls are delivered on a bed of carrots and lettuce with an accompanying dipping sauce that screams with a sweet honey flavor. If diners seek a light meal for two, the spring rolls can be combined with the lemongrass soup and coconut milk, which comes with either shrimp or chicken for a total of $10. All appetizers are quickly delivered in less than seven minutes.

Noodle dishes are the specialty of Central Thailand and are the featured item, with over 33 different options, on the menu. With the most expensive sitting at a manageable $9.25, all of the noodle entrees are priced well within reason. Featuring every type of noodle thickness, size, flavor and shape, these dishes can be topped with a variety of meats, sauces and vegetables that always mingle for an exotic explosion.
Gai Normai, a stir fry of Chicken, basil and bamboo shoots in a garlic sauce. Thai iced tea can be seen in the background.
Gai Normai, a stir fry of Chicken, basil and bamboo shoots in a garlic sauce. Thai iced tea can be seen in the background.

While noodle dishes command the menu, there are a variety of vegetarian, special chef and kitchen choices that range from simple stir fry to an entire deep-fried whole fish, bringing the menu to a total of 65 distinct items. One of the must-haves is the green curry. Loaded with bamboo shoots, snow peas, bell peppers and slices of chicken, beef, pork, shrimp or tofu, this staple of Thai cuisine has a fiery flavor and a smooth texture when mixed with rice.

The dishes arrive within 15 minutes and pack enough food to leave you full, perhaps with a bit of leftovers for later. While the spices and herbs are fully jammed into each bite, there is an optional spice tray for added tongue seduction.

Dessert is not the restaurant's specialty, but the deep-fried banana wrapped in a spring-roll coating and topped with honey and sesame seeds is worth a try. The true sweet splurge comes not from the dessert menu, but from the drinks section. If you have a few extra bucks in your wallet, be sure to put it towards the creamy Thai iced tea. This delicious Thai creation is a dual-layer drink that throws your palette into a frenzy and is perfect for pre or post-dinner sipping.

With a new Thai restaurant now located above the fountain in downtown, Thai Derm is bound to see some setbacks in business, but the inexpensive dishes, cozier atmosphere and richer flavors of Thai Derm will surely keep it afloat. This Silver Spring jewel has long serviced the community, and if you have yet to pass through its doors, now is as good a time as any.

Thai Derm is located on 939 Bonifant Street off of Fenton Street in Downtown Silver Spring. It is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Friday from 11 a.m. - 10:30 p.m.; Saturday from 12 - 9:30 p.m.; and Sunday from 5 - 9:30 p.m. It is closed daily between 3 and 5 p.m. For more information or for a carryout order, call (301) 589-5341.



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  • Peter Myers on March 23, 2009 at 9:56 PM
    I actually ate there on Sunday. It's great. The pad thai is really good, as is the iced tea mentioned above. It reminds me of Saigonese, a really good Vietnamese restaurant in wheaton.
  • Eli Barnett on March 25, 2009 at 10:15 PM
    I know of quite a few Thai restaurants in the area, but I haven't been to this one. I'll have to try it.

    My personal favorites are Nava Thai and Ruan Thai in Wheaton, they're more or less down the street from each other.
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