Discover the lesser-known joys of authentic Lao cuisine
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Southeast Asia long has been a popular tourist destination — and I would presume that the region’s food plays a big role in that. But even if you can’t make it there for a vacation any time soon, you can go visit Thai Lao Restaurant.
The eatery was created by Victor Chaleunxay, who is originally from Thailand. He opened the first Thai Lao in Kapolei about four years ago, before expanding to include the Pearl City venue more recently. Prior to opening his own eatery, Chaleunxay worked in other restaurants. But eventually he wanted to branch out on his own — and it didn’t hurt that his wife happens to be a cook.
“A lot of people know Thai food, but not too many people here know about Lao food,” Chaleunxay explains.
To remedy that, Thai Lao is a foray into the lesser-known cuisine. The owner points out that many common Lao dishes also have been adopted into Thai and Vietnamese cuisines. One example is what has become a Thai restaurant staple: sticky rice.
“We try to keep tradition — that is our main goal here,” he says. “I hear of other places substituting this and that, but we try to use the ingredients that traditionally are included.”
To start, Chaleunxay says that Sauteed Ginger ($10.95) has been a favorite among customers. The simple stir-fry is comprised of onions, pork and ginger. Another popular choice is Shu Shi Fish ($12.95), which features fish fillet swimming in a coconut milk-based curry complemented with kaffir leaf.
“It’s not too hot, but it has that natural curry spice,” Chaleunxay explains.
It’s good to note that you won’t find this dish on the menu — it’s something of an open secret among Thai Lao regulars.
You might not necessarily put the words beef and salad together, but at Thai Lao, it’s a perfect combination. Beef Salad ($10.95) features grilled beef alongside a mix of vegetables and seasonings, including tomatoes, chilies, mint, cucumber, cilantro, onion and lime juice.
There’s also Beef with Oyster Sauce ($10.95), which presents a hearty helping of beef sauteed with mushrooms, garlic, carrots and onions.
“That one has such a rich flavor,” Chaleunxay says.
Thai Lao Restaurant
Pearl City Business Plaza
803 Kamehameha Hwy., No. 203, Pearl City
Daily, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.