I'm Laotian, so I'm very hard on Lao restaurants. I tend to order very specific dishes from various Lao restaurants throughout the Bay Area because I've noticed that each restaurant has its own strong points.
Most, if not all of the following items should be eaten with sticky rice.
Here are my list of favorite dishes/restaurants:
VIENTIAN CAFE (Oakland, CA):
-Nam Khao (Lao fried rice ball salad)...it's nice and crispy...do not eat with sticky rice...great green onion flavor, but if it's too strong for you, the next time you order this dish just ask them to cut down on the green onions.
-Lao sausage (eaten with sticky rice)...comes with chewy pork skin and fat...yummy!
-Lao duck "yum"-type salad (eaten with sticky rice)...I believe the dish is called "Duck Salad" on the menu. This is not the same as Duck Larb. =)
-Soop Nor Mai (shredded bamboo with Lao herbs, steamed).
-Lao BBQ'd Pork ribs (eaten with sticky rice)...nicely charred with a great lemongrassy taste.
-Gaeng Nor Mai (bamboo soup with fermented fish flavor)...eaten with sticky rice.
CHAMPA GARDEN LAO CUISINE (Oakland, CA):
-The Champa Sampler...comes with Lao sausage, Nam Khao, and crispy spring rolls...the last two items are meant to be eaten as lettuce wraps. You should eat the sausages with sticky rice.The sausages served here don't have chewy bits of pork skin and fat, but they're still good nonetheless.
-Lao chicken noodle soup called "Khao Piak"..you should order the chicken version and ask for pork blood cubes. This soup does NOT use any coconut milk nor curry. When the soup arrives, top it off with some fried garlic, chili oil paste, and some black pepper.
GREEN PAPAYA DELI (Oakland, CA):
-Tum Maak Thua (long green bean salad)...similar to green papaya salad, but more flavorful. Call in advance because they tend to run out of this dish. If they don't have enough green beans, they'll ask you if it's okay to add some shredded papaya in with the long green beans. Please tell them NO THANK YOU! Don't order this dish unless if it's made only with long green beans. (Eaten with sticky rice and a meat entree...tastes best with deep-fried fish or grilled pig intestines).
-Ping Sai (Grilled intestines) - comes with lime sauce or "bitter" sauce. This dish is pretty plain, but it's really good with the bitter sauce and sticky rice.
-Beef Larb (with big chewy bits of tripe)...I like it either rare or cooked and slightly bitter...enjoy with sticky rice.
-***My friend mentioned that their Mok Pa (Lao steamed fish wrapped in banana leaves) is really good.
-***I haven't tried their version of this salad, but I noticed that they sell Lao Salad (aka Luang Prabang salad) with Laotian egg garlic dressing...should be good!
THAT LUANG KITCHEN (San Pablo, CA):
-Gaeng Kieng Nai (beef organ soup)..if you're adventurous, you can ask them to make it slightly bitter.
-Beef Larb...if rare and bitter...this is NOT the westernized version of Larb. Don't order unless the meat is farm bought on Fridays and Saturdays...ASK the waiter to confirm.
DARA LAO THAI RESTAURANT (Berkeley, CA):
-Beef Larb (cooked)...very good for a cooked version of Larb...great dill taste, which is typical of Laotian cooking...it's still good even though there's no tripe in this one. My co-workers really loved this dish.
-Pineapple duck red curry...this type of curry dish is common in Laos, Thailand, and Cambodia because of the Indian influence (i.e. curries).
ROSE GARDEN (San Pablo, CA):
-Lao papaya salad (eaten with vermicelli noodles or sticky rice).
-Lao quail stew called Aw Nok (or something similar to this).
I haven't tried any of the tangy Laotian soups served at Lao restaurants, because I prefer my mom's homemade soups. =) In addition, the Lao papaya salads served at Lao restaurants in the U.S. aren't as good as the ones made at home. The chefs tend to use low-quality fermented fish sauce versus the nicely aromatic fermented fish sauce.
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