An older gentleman sat the bar of Rincome Thai Cuisine in Arlington on a weekday afternoon, professing his love for the restaurant, which turns 30 this year. He said that he thought Rincome was the best restaurant in the area.
Not the best Thai restaurant. Not the best South East Asian cuisine. The best restaurant. And his statement has some credence.
Rincome Thai Cuisine, possibly best described ambiance-wise as the Thai version of the bar from “Cheers,” has framed pictures lining the walls of the restaurant’s bar room. That’s not unique for most restaurants, but I haven’t seen it in a Thai restaurant, unless I wasn’t paying attention. There are photos of military service members, local politicians and celebrities in the bar room.
Rincome, in this age of fancified fusion or artisanal eateries, has real character. The place is cozy and the wait staff is familiar. Rincome’s owner, Mimi, helps the wait staff and talks up the regulars, but doesn’t make the newbies feel excluded. The entire place has an intimacy that many other eateries in this region, where the dining scene is dying to be New York City, don’t have.
That intimacy extends to Rincome’s food. According to the restaurant’s staff, Rincome’s chefs have been working at the restaurant for over 20 years. That’s unheard of in the dining scene and start to explain the delicious eats the restaurant serves up.
My one complaint comes at the beginning of the restaurant’s menu. Rincome’s appetizers are pretty expensive. There are only two options that cost under five dollars and the rest of the app options range between $7.95 – $14.95. Most of the rest of Rincome’s menu is reasonable, which makes up for it, but I have a hard time justifying spending $7.95 for Fried To-Fu.
There also aren’t a ton of vegan appetizer options on Rincome’s menu, but I’ve ordered the Tom Kha Gai ($3.95/$8.95) the last couple of times I’ve gone. I’ve found the small size version of the soup, while not as spicy as other tom kha soups I’ve had in the past, is a great primer for the large portions Rincome gives in their entrees.
The Tom Kha Gai is made with a coconut milk and lime juice base, mushrooms and is usually made with chicken, but can tofu can be substituted for no additional charge. The soup is then topped with cilantro. It’s sweet, tangy and earthy.
There are a ton of vegan options on Rincome’s entree menu. A few months back I wrote about the Spicy Eggplant dish at Neisha’s Thai Cuisine in Tysons and said that the dish was probably the best eggplant dish I’ve had of any kind.
I think that holds true, but Rincome’s Egg Plant with Basil Leaves ($9.95), which is along the same lines as Neisha’s, is a worthy competition and it offers something different. Whereas Neisha’s eggplant dish is sort of like drunken eggplant, with the eggplant cooked soft, the texture of Rincome’s dish is crunchier. Also, Rincome’s dish is a larger portion at a slightly lower price.
Now, there are two dishes on Rincome’s menu which can be found at most, if not all, Thai restaurants, but are done the best at the Columbia Pike eatery: the Drunken Noodles ($10.95) and the Sticky Rice and Mango.
Rincome’s Drunken Noodles, which usually comes with chicken and egg but can be ordered without the egg and with tofu, is the better than any drunken noodle dish that I’ve had in this region. It comes with onions, bell peppers, basil and hot peppers. The basil gets drunk along with the noodles, but the onions and bell peppers are only lightly cooked so that they’re still crispy. The texture provides an interesting contrast with the gooey noodles.
And the Sticky Rice and Mango isn’t anything extraordinary, but the serving size is. Whereas other restaurants give a maybe a quarter cup of sticky rice, Rincome serves up between three quarters of a cup and a cup of sticky rice and enough mango to go with it.
I lived in the neighborhood where Rincome is located for nearly 15 years and I hadn’t known about the eatery until recently. Shame on me for missing out on such a great establishment and what should be known as a Columbia Pike institution.
Rincome Thai Cuisine | 3030 Columbia Pike | Arlington | 703-979-0144 | rincomethai.com