Family Lao-Thai Restaurant is indeed a family affair. While Saykham Sengmavong runs the kitchen, his daughter Annee and her fiancé David Simoukdalay manage the front of the house. On occasion, Chef Sengmavong’s wife helps out with cooking duties. Together, the family serves up outstanding, authentic Laotian dishes (they also offer a selection of Thai dishes). We recently fell in love with one of these offerings: larb with sticky rice ($7) — always with sticky rice, lest you offend the larb spirit gods (and, more critically, Annee and David).
Considered the national dish of Laos, larb consists of ground meat, onion, cilantro, lime, fish sauce, and chili. And then there’s the magic: rice powder. Uncooked rice toasted with kaffir leaves and lemongrass, then finely ground, the rice powder gives larb a delightful nutty, slightly smoky flavor. It’s high time this wonder ingredient finds its way into meatballs and other ground meat concoctions (Lao-inspired meatloaf, anyone?).
Lao-Thai offers both chicken (bottom two photos, above) and beef larb (top two). Annee and David hope to serve duck larb on special occasions, which we fully support.While we enjoyed both, we prefer the beef option. It’s a bit moister and sucks up the flavors better than the white chicken meat. And, to our great pleasure, the beef larb comes with small ribbons of tripe, adding a pleasant, savory chewiness (yes, chewiness can be pleasant). You can always leave off the tripe, but we’d advise against it—though subtle, the tripe takes the dish to the next level.
Eaten with perfectly cooked sticky rice — or, if you choose, iceberg lettuce cups — Lao-Thai’s larb works well as an entree or side dish to share. Either way, this deceptively simple, super flavorful dish is sure to convert doubters to the joys of Laotian food and the family fare of Lao-Thai restaurant.
Family Lao-Thai Restaurant, 501 University Ave W, St Paul, MN 55103; 651.224.5026