Late in the summer, around the time the Popeye’s fried chicken sandwich was inciting mass hysteria nationwide, Seng Luangrath approached chef Nyi Nyi Myint with another one of her wild ideas. What if Myint, who runs Sen Khao, Luangrath’s Lao noodle counter at the Taste of Urbanspace food hall in Tysons Galleria, came up with a chicken sandwich that reflected the spicy, pungent flavors her family has become known for at Padaek, Thip Khao, and Hanumanh?
What started then as a Sunday special at Sen Khao is now a pop-up with its own dedicated space on the other side of the food hall. Laowich opened last weekend with a menu of five sandwiches, including a buttermilk-and-herb brined chicken that’s fried in a potato starch batter, spiced with Lao peppercorns, and dressed with a vegan “Sen sauce” made out tofu, fermented soy, and sous vide garlic.
“That’s one of the great things about working with Nyi Nyi,” Luangrath says. “Whatever I throw at him, he’s like, ‘OK, I’ve got it.’”
The pop-up will run at least through the end of December and opens for lunch every day. It accepts customers from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Monday through Friday, stays open until 9 p.m. on Saturdays, and closes at 6 p.m. on Sundays.
Three sandwiches — the crispy chicken, a deep-fried catfish, and crispy tofu — come on a milk bread baked in the shop. Two others, a roasted pork belly and a roast beef-style brisket, are served banh mi style on baguettes.
All the sandwiches cost $15, which includes a soda and a side of home fries tossed in a sour tamarind powder that Luangrath eventually plans to package and sell. Luangrath also has ketchup along with bottles of her favorite Thai sriracha and Golden Mountain seasoning, a Maggi-like sauce she used to sprinkle on her son’s sandwiches.
Laowich also sells two salads (lemongrass chicken and crispy tofu) and is experimenting with desserts that will eventually be offered at Hanumanh, Luangrath’s Lao bar in Shaw.
Hanumanh has been temporarily closed since August due to a plumbing problem, and Luangrath expects it to reopen soon. She hired pastry chef Kyle Knaub to develop desserts for the new Lao bar and has since put him to work in Tysons, where he developed a buttery milk bread for sandwiches and a dessert that Laowich is selling this week: a white potato and Kaffir lime cake that’s similar to banana bread and topped with a lemongrass-flavored marshmallow that’s salted and toasted. The pop-up is also selling sung kaya khao gham, a favorite dessert of Luangrath’s made with black sticky rice, pumpkin custard, coconut cream, and a garnish of fried onions.
Luangrath has a lot on her plate, but she says her son, Bobby Pradachith, has assumed most of the day-to-day duties at the family’s restaurants and freed her up to take on new projects. She’s passionate about mentoring other Lao chefs to help the cuisine spread, and she recently accepted her first paid consulting gig, developing the menu for new Pittsburgh restaurant KIIN.