Stopped in to the new kid on the block in the Tower District for lunch today. Ordered the Papaya Salad (6.95), shredded green papaya, tomatoes, green beans, and peanuts. The Iceberg lettuce and tomato were presented on half the plate and the remainder on the other, being a newbie to this dish I was unsure of the proper protocol. The menu says it's available in Lao or Thai style, was told the difference is the Lao style has anchovy (liquid, not filets or chopped) in lime juice, and the Thai just lime juice. Went with the Lao after being told it was more authentic and spicy. I'd seen a reco from a local review raving about the Phad Kee Meo (7.95), big rice noodles w/basil, carrots, and broccoli in spices, chicken, pork or beef, or a buck extra for shrimp, which sounded perfect.
I'm a lover of hot, spicy dishes, so the Papaya Salad didn't disappoint, actually cleared my sinuses and caused my eyes to mist over. While the liquid from the anchovy didn't dominate, I would have preferred the flavor to have come from whole filets (or pre-chopped). I'd like to order this again maybe Thai style, with the same heat.
The Phad Kee Meo (7.95) was a gastronic delight, everything the menu listed plus slices of a type of squash, grilled tomato, and small florets of cauliflower. I want to compare this dish with one of my favorite Chinese plates, beef chow fun, but there was no gravy (they do offer a Phad Lad Nah in brown gravy), the spicing was spread evenly over the noodles with flecks of dark bits that enhanced and brought all the flavors together. I would order this with strips of an old Nike sneaker if it could be made tender.
Apologies for not checking out the available wines, only noticed at the last minute that they have a full bar and rack of wine glasses over the service station, not to fear, I will return and report back.
RE those looking for Lao or Hmong dishes, they only list three as having Lao influence: the aforementioned Papaya salad, Laud Nur or Kai, a salad (grilled beef or chicken, tossed in roasted rice powder, chili, herbs, and lemon sauce), or Lao/Thai style Mangolian [sic] Beef or Chicken, white onions, dried chili peppers, and green onion.
Have heard about service issues when crowded, but PB says go and report back.
BTW, for all you night owls, they are open til 3am Thurs-Sat.
The Million Elephant Cafe & Bar
1153 N. Fulton (SW corner at Olive)