For years, Thip Khao has been the only Lao restaurant in the District. Now, we finally have some competition (which is a good thing for anyone like me who wants to eat this spicy southeast cuisine all the time). Because there are so few Laos restaurants in town, a comparison is inevitable. Laos in Town, like Thip Khao, is casual, reasonably priced (with most entrees between $10 and $15) and offers food that will have you coming back repeatedly.
But despite the similarities, Laos in Town manages to offer a different Lao experience. To begin with, it offers an entirely vegan menu, in addition to a menu with meat dishes. I realize this may not be as exciting for you as it is for me, but think of your plant-based friends. One warning for vegetarians: many of the veg dishes do include tofu, so it helps if you aren’t one of those afraid-of-tofu types. Second, the vibe is particularly exotic, with birch tree decorated walls and dangling bamboo baskets and fishing nets. Third, the dishes show off both traditional Lao food as well as Lao street food dishes served by Lao immigrants who moved to Thailand and set up street food stalls.
As such, the small plates section of the menu at Laos in Town is especially interesting. I insisted on starting with an order of spring rolls, which seems like a dish you can order at many Asian restaurants, but as I suspected, they where a little different. These spring rolls are fried, but come with instructions to wrap them in lettuce before eating. It seemed weird, but I went with it. The result? Crispy on crispy. I was better able to appreciate the spicy filling (which can often be bland in spring rolls) because of the cool lettuce. I inhaled them.
Laab tofu, another small plate, features hunks of tofu in a super spicy rice powder dressing with lime, cilantro, mint and onions. It has so much going on, it’s a heady whirlwind of flavor. Wok fried noodles, often sold street-side in Asia, are soft and succulent and come with heat options like sriracha is served on the side.
One of the dishes that was completely new to me was a dill infused stew. It comes with regular rice, but get the sticky rice. The stew is a warm savory broth, laden with herbs, tofu, eggplant, and green beans. It’s like a Lao version of comfort dish: I want to eat this when the weather is cold, when I have a cold, or when someone is cold to me and I need a hug.
For dessert, the sticky rice is an obvious choice. Again this is a dish you have had before, but with a twist: the sticky rice is cooked with pandan leaves, which add a rose-like flavor and turn the sticky rice green. It’s glutinous, glutenous and basically what my dreams are made of. You won’t be able to stop eating it.