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This award-winning restaurant in DC features a seven-course tasting menu for only $45 per person. What’s the catch? No reservations in this 28-person restaurant (they don’t even have a phone line), only groups of four or less are permitted and there are no menu substitutions allowed.

Little Serow opened in late 2011 by the husband-and-wife team Chef Johnny Monis and Anne Marler who also own the nearby (and much less affordable) Komi. Since opening, the restaurant has received many accolades including being named as one of the Top 10 New Restaurants in America (2012) by Bon Appétit and topping GQ’s list of Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2013. Chef Monis also won a James Beard award for Best Chef Mid-Atlantic in 2013. So, yes, this restaurant is legit.

The interior

Coupled with the fact that the seating capacity is so limited, it’s not surprising to see why the waits can be so torturous. Little Serow is open for dinner Tuesdays to Saturdays from 5:30. But you better get there early if you want to eat at a reasonable time. The three of us arrived at 5 on a Saturday and there were easily over 30 people ahead of us already. Little Serow doesn’t have any signage but you’ll know you’re at the right place once you spot the line.

Thankfully they take your name and number down and will text you once your table is ready. We hopped over to Duke’s Grocery next door and grabbed a couple drinks before dinner. They contacted us surprisingly quick, just before 7pm to let us know that our table was almost ready. So, if you’re able to catch the second seating, you can still eat at a pretty good time.

Sitting at the counter

Little Serow is located in a basement and it really does feel like you’re eating in a basement. It’s super casual and has a very grungy feel to it with its sea green walls and dimly lit space. Very low key and…well, hipster! As I’ve already mentioned, the seating capacity is only 28, eight of which are on a long communal counter, where we were seated.

Good thing we got a couple cocktails in us before dinner since Little Serow doesn’t offer cocktails. Just beer and wine.

Tonight’s menu

Anyway, let’s talk about the food situation here. Little Serow features a family-style seven-course tasting menu (which changes weekly) of northern and northeastern thai dishes for $45 per person. The food is incredibly spicy, so expect to break into a sweat. What not to expect? Pad thai. You’ll be taken on a journey of dishes you’ve likely never experienced before.

In order to turn the tables over quickly, the food comes at lightning speed. It’s not your traditional tasting menu where you’re served one dish at a time. Dishes will come out together and dishes will come out before you’ve completed your previous one.

Since the menu changes weekly, I’ll keep this short and sweet. Here’s a look at our visit’s offerings:

Nam Prik Kha Nun – jack fruit, shrimp paste & pla rah

Nam Prik Kha Nun

Tom Kha Pla Chorn – snakehead fish, galangal & lime leaf

Tom Kha Pla Chorn

Nam Tuk Wun Sen – pork cheek, fresh noodles & rice powder

Nam Tuk Wun Sen

Laap Pla Duk Chiang Mai – catfish, shallots & lanna spices

Laap Pla Duk Chiang Mai

Tow Hu Thouk – tofu, cilantro root & peanuts

Tow Hu Thouk

Ped Grapao – duck, duck egg & basil

Ped Grapao

Si Krong Muu – pork ribs, mekhong whiskey & dill

Si Krong Muu

Sticky Rice (unlimited)

Sticky Rice

Vegetables (unlimited and very much necessary to beat the heat)


Sticky Coconut Rice

Sticky Coconut Rice

Highlights for me included the pork cheek, tofu and pork ribs. The pork cheek, while quite spicy (like every other dish), packed a punch of flavour and was a nice refreshing dish.

I’m just as surprised as you are that the tofu dish was one of my favourites for the evening. They fried the tofu to a really nice crispness and I loved the pairing of it with the cilantro roots and crunchy peanuts. Who would’ve thought that a couple of us meat-eaters would be fighting over the last couple pieces of tofu?

They ended off the seven courses with a bang. Those pork ribs were phenomenal and we all agreed that this was the stand-out of the evening. I regretted filling up on so much rice throughout the meal (though it was very much necessary to cut the spiciness), since I was pretty stuffed by the time our plate of ribs arrived. The pork ribs were marinated in whisky, sugar and fish sauce and were finished off with this really amazing glaze. Finger-lickin’ good.

While a dessert isn’t included in the seven-course tasting, they give you a little sweet bite of sticky coconut rice to end the meal. It was really delicious and left me wanting more.

I’ll be honest, with all its accolades, I was expecting to be blown away by every single dish but I wasn’t. The expectations were high – it’s like going to watch a movie that’s already won an Oscar. However, despite not falling head over heels for every dish, I still had a great experience at Little Serow. The dishes that were good, were really phenomenal so they are still certainly worth a visit. It’s a fun experience (aside from the wait) and at $45, the seven-course tasting is a real steal!

At a glance:
• James Beard award winning Chef Johnny Monis (who also owns the nearby Komi)
• Family-style seven-course tasting menu of northern/northeastern Thai dishes for $45/person
• No reservations; no menu substitutions; only parties of 4 or less are permitted
• No cocktails; only beer and wine
• Open for dinner at 5:30pm Tuesdays to Saturdays; closed Sundays/Mondays
• Notorious for long waits; get there well before opening as the space only seats 28 people
• Food (which is VERY spicy) comes at lightning speed so tables turn over quickly
• Wasn’t blown away by every single dish but still enjoyed most, so while it might be a tad overhyped, I’d still highly recommend it – fun experience and a steal at $45

Ratings (out of 5):
• Food: 4 stars
• Service: 3 stars
• Atmosphere: 2 stars

Little Serow on Urbanspoon

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