Washington’s Lao food movement is no longer contained to the family of restaurants that Thip Khao made famous.
Laos in Town (250 K Street NE) opens for lunch and dinner today in NoMa, bringing Northeast D.C. an approach to the Southeast Asian country’s cuisine from a pair of Thai partners, owner Nick Ongsangkoon and executive chef Ben Tiatasin. The interest from Thai entrepreneurs is particularly telling because Lao cooks have often catered to American tastes by opening Thai kitchens instead of cooking their own food, which is known to crank up the volume on funk and spice.
Ongsangkoon is a partner at Soi 38, a street food spot in Foggy Bottom that landed on Eater’s list of essential Thai restaurants this year. He spent his childhood in Bangkok before moving to Virginia as a teenager. According to a release, he has fond memories of visiting Lao food stalls in his hometown and also traveling across Thailand’s eastern border to Laos.
Tiatasin got her start working in the front of the house at Bangkok Golden, the Falls Church Thai restaurant from Lao chefs Seng Luangrath and Bobby Pradachith, her son. The Lao menu at Bangkok Golden became so popular that the owners eventually changed the name to Padaek, launching a popular restaurant group that now includes Thip Khao in Columbia Heights, Sen Khao in Tysons Galleria, and the soon-to-open Hanumanh in Shaw.
Tiatasin, who’s also from Bangkok, gained kitchen experience working at Esaan, the lauded Northeastern Thai restaurant in McLean that’s been listed in Washingtonian’s top 100 for the past two years.
With an emphasis on fiery flavors, fresh herbs, and sticky rice, the Northeastern Thai style that made Little Serow a hit in D.C. boasts similarities to Lao food.
At Laos in Town, Tiatasin is doing her own version of a grilled pork shoulder and roasted rice powder that’s popular at Esaan. She’s dubbed a green papaya salad as her signature dish, mixing the unripe fruit with a tame variation of fermented fish sauce along with green beans, tomatoes, bean sprouts, pickles, and pork loaf. Grilled banana with caramelized flower sauce and banana ice cream is an intriguing option on the dessert section.
Laos in Town menu by on Scribd