Maywood, NJ 07607
- Credit Cards: All Major
March 28, 2013
Visit this neighborhood gem in Maywood when you are ready for the powerful flavors of Laotian food.
Nestled between Thailand and Vietnam in Southeast Asia, Laos (officially, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic) offers a cuisine distinct from its much larger neighbors. Laotian food uses lots of green herbs, like galangal and mint, and emphasizes sour and bitter flavors. Many dishes are served at room temperature, and everything comes with sticky rice. There aren’t many Lao restaurants on the East Coast – the largest Lao communities in the United States are in California, Seattle and Minneapolis – but New Jersey has one, a very good one.
Pho Thai-Lao Kitchen is the only New Jersey restaurant I have found serving Laotian cuisine. It is a tiny spot with a dozen small tables, colorful decorations and a flat screen tuned to Thai television. The husband and wife running the kitchen are Soubanh Sysounthone, from Laos, and Samlane Sysounthone, from Thailand. The extensive menu has sections for each cuisine. The menu also warns diners about spice levels – you can specify a spice level from “1” to “5” for almost every dish – with 1 “like Tabasco sauce” and 5 “as hot as the infamous ghost chile.” Our daughter’s level 1 Green Curry Chicken was plenty spicy. At an apprehensive table next to us, the very helpful server suggested a “1.5” spice selection.
The Thai cuisine here gets good reviews, but I couldn’t pass up the chance to try something new. When we visited on a recent Friday evening (make reservations – service moves at a leisurely pace and tables stay a while) I focused on the Lao dishes. Off the list of daily specials, I ordered Pla Som Tod, a whole red snapper, “pickled” for a few hours in Lao fish sauce and salt, then grilled and served over sautéed onions, garlic and vegetables. Each piece of fish delivers an explosive salty-sour flavor unlike anything I have tasted. The crispy fried rice with pork sausage (Nam Khao), to be scooped up with lettuce leaves, is a crunchy rice lovers dream, flavored with peanuts, scallions, mint, cilantro, chilies, lime and more fish sauce. Beef noodle soup, served like Vietnamese pho, is filled with beef slices, meatballs and rice noodles, with a nice sour Kaffir lime bite. Other Lao menu items include Larb Nuer (beef and tripe in a spicy sauce), Gob Kratiem (crispy frog legs in garlic sauce), and E-saan “fermented” Spare Ribs.
For dessert, try the Thai Coconut pudding (Ka-nohm Krok), little rice flour and coconut sweet custards cooked individually in a cast iron skillet, topped with scallions.
- Eat the World NYC (15 Sep 2015)
- Edible Jersey (Spring 2015)
- NorthJersey.com (8 Jun 2012)
- The New York Times (Sept 2012)