After making my pork belly score at the Thai grocery on S. Hillside last week, I spotted the sign for an intriguing eatery, the Thai Lao Cafe in the perpendicular strip center one door south. Having an errand in that neighborhood (oh, two...i had to get more pork belly also), I decided to have lunch...to do the 'hound pioneer thing. So glad I did...though immediately after walking through the front door, I was about ready to do an about face and head somewhere else...it's a bit spooky inside....no linen tablecloth in sight...rather, a handful of plastic folding tables and folding metal chairs, and a small counter toward the back with a hand-written menu on the wall behind.
I approached with some trepidation...I was curious about the Lao aspect and most of the dishes listed seemed to be Thai. However, I quickly remembered that Laos is the NE neighbor of Thailand and shares a linguistic and cultural branch of the Thai tree, Lao is a Tai language variant, and the food in Laos, or some at least, has much in common with NE Thai food, Issan in particular, I believe. And having had Issan food in various places including the legendary Lotus of Siam in Vegas, I was keen to see what they could do.
The woman behind the counter, though, appeared to have trouble understanding my English...but i was soon rescued when her (I assume) husband approached and assured me that the menu items were mostly Lao derived. He was amused that I was seeking Lao and not Thai and asked me if someone had sent me there...I told him I simply saw the sign and was curious.
Anyway, I opted for the old reliable Larb (Lahb on their menu) which unfortunately only comes in beef...not sure if that is a Lao thing or an expediency for the Kansas locale. Anyway, he told me it tasted different from Thai Larb and that it was very good. He was right. The meat itself looked familiar, though maybe overcooked for my sake (it should be nearly raw or barely cooked)...but instead of being served on a bed or lettuce/salad, the vegetables were served on the side, a heaping plate of lettuce, fresh chiles, raw round green eggplant (remember, most eggplant varieties are not purple), and something that looked like dark eggplant (!!!) colored green beans. A basket of sticky rice was also included. Well, the combo was fantastic, the meat laced with fresh mint and cilantro, various other flavors including minced kaffir lime leaves and probably galanga, a relative of ginger. It was delightful, the sticky rice and vegetables made for a nice foil to the spicy, hot lahb. I was in heaven.
The gentleman was most gracious and asked if everything was ok, I nodded yes since my mouth was full and I couldn't (politely) speak. Thai TV was beaming from a satellite and the experience was probably like little hut cafes in the lao countryside, that's how it felt...the inside is just that rustic. But don't be frightened by that...the owners were very very welcoming and the food promised to hold more surprises: Lao beef jerky, fried chicken wings, various forms of catfish, papaya salad, and other Lao/Thai goodies.
Try this place, I guarantee you'll have no fear of meeting Denise Neil here!!!! Though maybe we should plan a Chowhound gathering here to sample the entire menu, that is if we can get more than three people interested!@!!
more to follow....