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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Casual restaurant

Sun–Thu 5:30pm–10:30pm
Fri–Sat 5:30pm–11:00pm

Features Date-friendly, delivery, kid-friendly, outdoor dining, veg-friendly
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted


1836 18th St. NW
Washington, DC
(202) 483-1483
Straits of Malaya
Head straight here—not across the street...

On a warm summer night, the rooftop patio at Straits of Malaya is more appealing than its Mexican competitor across the street (we won’t name names). The food here is authentic and unpretentious, the drinks are strong, and the service is friendly. The space isn’t elegant—the table-tops are vaguely grimy, the narrow staircase to the roof is precarious—but it’s welcoming in its own way. Start with a mai tai or Singapore sling, the house specialty cocktails made with tropical fruit juices and rum or gin. We must admit to having a certain fondness for these two drinks.

We can’t even begin to identify all the spices in the tasty laksa, but we’ve licked the bowl clean of the rich, savory coconut and curry broth. Also unfamiliar but surprisingly delicious is the combination of hot and sweet spices in the cinnamon-and-nutmeg-scented five-spice rolls of ground meat wrapped in a thin sheet of crispy tofu. You’ll realize quickly, and just as quickly come to enjoy, that Malaysian cuisine is heavily influenced by both its Chinese and Indian neighbors.

Main courses are served family style, and a wide variety of curries and noodle dishes is available. The ”chef’s favorite,” cha kway teow, comes off like your average Chinese-American dish: it consists of wide, flat rice noodles served in a dark brown sauce flavored with mushrooms and spicy chili paste. Another signature dish is a vivid-yellow curried Chinese eggplant with chicken—the warming coconut-based sauce includes cumin and fennel seeds, and is worth lapping up with whatever rice or noodles you’ve got. Don’t come here expecting the real-deal flavors of Malaysia. The preps here are definitely dumbed down for Americans—less spicy, less fish sauce, fewer real animal parts.

The wine list is a total afterthought, consisting of fewer than ten basic wines in categories labeled ”premium” ($25 per bottle) and ”adventurous” ($35 per bottle). The wines are really neither premium nor adventurous, so stick with the tropical cocktails.

The restaurant has great service, though, courtesy of a casual but friendly waitstaff that’s happy to recommend dishes, keep the cocktails coming, and pack up your leftovers. The roof deck manages to project a spirited, party-like atmosphere without loud music or deafening chatter. Don’t hold it against the place that the best dessert on offer is fried bananas served with ice cream. Just enjoy the home-style (if Americanized) Malaysian food and the friendly environs, and go ahead and feel superior to the suckers packing the roof deck across the street.

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