HOME > Chowhound > Manhattan >


Where to find a Lao restaurant ?

  • e

I would like to know if there is a good Lao restaurant in Manhattan or around there, not too far... Thanks a lot !

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. m
    mary shaposhnik

    As far as I can tell, NOBODY has found one yet. I've been asking this since I joined Chowhound. Your closest thing would be to find a Thai restaurant run by people from the Issan region, where many Lao people live (in fact, more Lao live in Thailand than in Laos). I strongly suspect that many Lao might call their restaurant a Thai restaurant just to get customers, but who knows. The Bronx would probably be the best place to hunt, but I don't know anything more specific. I once thought that the people who run Mangez Avec Moi, on W. Broadway, were Lao, but never checked it out, and their food wasn't Lao anyway.

    I'd love to be proven wrong on all this...

    8 Replies
    1. re: mary shaposhnik
      Melanie Wong

      Issan = Lao

      The ancient Lao kingdom included modern day Laos plus much of northeastern Thailand, a region called Issan. The Lao-speaking people who live in that region are also referred to as Issan.

      Out here in the SF Bay Area, what you suspect is true. Many restaurant owners/staff are Lao/Thai Issan, but they call their restaurants "Thai".

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        so whats typical lao fare?

        1. re: sleazo

          khao niaw (sticky rice), tam maak hung (papaya salad), keng kai (chicken galanga soup), larp pa (minced fish with lemon grass), phad phak bong (stir fried morning glory), keng no mai (bamboo sprout soup), mok pa (fish steamed in banana leaves), ping kai (BBQ chicken), sai kok (sausages) ... + lao interpretation of thai food like tom yam etc ...

          and all of this is spicy and delicious !

          1. re: etapbeta

            Many of the dishes that you just mentioned are served at Sripraphai.

            1. re: etapbeta

              It's a common misconception that dishes served at Thai restaurants are all Thai. What people think of Thai food is actually a combination of various cuisines...On Thai restaurant menus, there's actually quite a number of Lao dishes (larb salad, lao sausage but renamed "Thai sausage", BBQ chicken, etc...) as well as Malaysian (i.e. satay or sate), Indian (i.e. yellow chicken curry), Chinese (i.e. eggrolls, chowfun: pad-si-ew), etc.

              Also, your comment regarding Tom Yum soup, "+ lao interpretation of thai food like tom yam", implies that Laotians came up with their own version based on the Thai soup...however, Tom Yum soup is also believed to be a Thai interpretation of a Lao chicken or catfish soup...so there are quite a number of views as to the origins of Lao and Thai dishes since they are similar to one another.

              Whatever the case may be, I love eating both Lao and Thai foods... =)

              and oh, you're right on the money as far as the rest of the dishes you have listed...your comment is making me hungry!...hehe...thanks for sharing.

              1. re: etapbeta

                Zabb City is an Issan restaurant (it even says it on the onning) on 13th st

                im not a thai expert, but i eat here fairly often as my gf and i really like it. It sometimes gets mixed reviews on this board, but i think you need to know what to order...from what i gathered about Issan food i stuck to things like the pork laab, stick rice, papaya salad etc and ive found those to be really good. Other stuff like a red or green curry that i might get at any other thai restaurant have just been so so

                1. re: Lau

                  agreed...Zaab City is prob the closest thing you'll get to Lao cooking in Manhattan...the pork laab was prob the best i've had in the NYC area, and the somdam wasn't bad...some of the other dishes are hit or miss...

                2. re: etapbeta

                  "keng luc mai" is actually the bamboo shoot soup, which translates roughly as "stewed baby shoots". the "luc mai" referring to the tender young bamboo shoots. there is also a variation on the dish called "keng dac mai" which supplements young bamboo shoots with local mushrooms.

          2. Here's a hail mary even if it's way off the path. Some years ago in the DC area there was a Lao place in Wheaton which I never made it to. In Falls Church there was a Thai-Lao place that wasn't base but I can't remember any details. If any one finds a place please post.

            1. Here's a hail mary even if it's way off the path. Some years ago in the DC area there was a Lao place in Wheaton which I never made it to. In Falls Church there was a Thai-Lao place that wasn't base but I can't remember any details. If any one finds a place please post.

              1. Closest I know is in East Hartford, CT. Here's what I wrote in Chow Alert a few months ago:

                While seeking bread in Hartford, I visited East West Grille (526 New Park Ave, West Hartford, CT; 860-236-3287) for an ultra-rare taste of Laotian cuisine. This place is in a diner, but rather than squatting, as many immigrant restaurateurs do, in a stark, unrefurbished diner, they've created a charming Southeast Asian vibe via some simple touches - colorful handmade curtains clipped to long horizontal bamboo poles, wide-brimmed bamboo hats perched atop each booth's coat rack, unpretentious track lighting, etc.. Between the decor and the scent of basil and lemongrass, the result's a true transformation.

                The staff is earnest but clueless, and the menu is appalling for its first few pages (over-reaching pan-Asian fusion with lots of gringo pandering), but the real Laotian stuff's in the back. I tried only a few dishes, but took away an impression that East West Grille is no mecca, but a good local venue for a taste of this hard-to-find cuisine.

                Best item I had was a slamming avocado shake, a standard in that part of the world. Creamy, mild, not to sweet, nearly worth riding to Hartford for. Their durian shake is next on my list to sample (the fruit's notorious stink is best broached by novices in milkshake form).

                Next best was their sai ghock, fat, coarse, spicy/herbaceous sausages, which I'm pretty sure are homemade. They're the real thing.

                I'd heard good things about their Seen hang (Laotion beef jerky), but while it was properly spicy, it was totally lacking in deliciousness. Like a diner rendition of, say, crab cakes, it was not so much fake or wrong as simply uninspired and short-cutted.

                Same for summer rolls, ultra simple items that in the wrong hands can seem boring and superfluous, but, at best, are the essence of fresh summer verdancy. East West Grill's are perfectly fine, but no one's idea of verdant. Expect low verdancy.

                Very good sticky rice made me suspect their mango sticky rice dessert is terrific.

                I really liked their tomatoey homemade hot sauce, but the next day, leftover, it had turned into V8 with chiles. I don't understand why.

                Pretty good local place, and there may be more good dishes to explore. Worth a stop if you're in the area or just dying to try Laotian (which any died-in-wool hound is!).

                Link: http://chowhound.safeshopper.com/25/c...

                1 Reply
                1. re: Jim Leff

                  just a quick correction on some nomenclature. Thai and Lao cuisine are very similar but like Thai people, the culture, people and food of Laos should be referred to as LAO not Laotion (you wouldn't call someone from Thailand "Thaianese" or "Thaition"). it's a common mistake but as a Lao-American i feel the need to correct people as it's often misstated, even among some Lao people living in the states.

                2. I too would love an entire Laotian restaurant in New York as they have in Philladelphia with Vientienne, after my trip to Laos last summer with some tasty cooking lessons in Luang Prabang. I can forward recipes for a few things if people are interested for Bamboo Laap
                  Fish in Yellow Curry
                  Vegetable Olam Soup
                  Khao Phun (banana blossom salad)

                  I did have some vegetable olam soup at Sticky Rice in the LES (85 Orchard St., nr. Broome St., New York NY 10002) the other day, a mostly Thai restaurant with this dish. I asked if someone there was Laotian, but couldn't really get a straight answer to figure out if they could make other Lao dishes. The Olam was OK, not super flavorful though. It wasn't my favorite Lao dish in Laos either, but I just ordered it cause I was so excited to find it!

                  11 Replies
                  1. re: ephramzz

                    The one Lao member of my dining out group says Zabb is where he goes for a taste of home. Only the original location in Queens, he adds, not the outpost in the East Village. I don't think you'll find khao soi, though, no matter how you spell it.

                    1. re: DaveCook

                      I was actually at Zabb in Queens last weekend, and I didn't see a anything that jumped out at me as being Lao, but I did have to order fairly quickly as the kitchen was closing so didn't get to look very carefully at the menu.Can you ask your friend which Lao dishes he gets?

                      Hmm, yeah, I was kinda hoping to find Khao Soi at Zabb as well given it's northern Thai, how'd you know? But no such luck. I guess it's more northeast than northwest.

                      1. re: ephramzz

                        I haven't been able to track down my friend, ephramzz. However, while digging through my group's records at Meetup.com, I came across a fairly new group called the NYC Laos connection (http://asianpros.meetup.com/57/) that first met at a place called Lao San Restaurant, at 26 East Broadway. If only I'd looked earlier, I'd have stopped by when I was in Chinatown, and I'd have photos and perhaps even menu details for you. As it happens, Halloween lunch is a possibility.

                        1. re: DaveCook

                          Has anyone tried Zabb in the East Village? Even if their Queens outpost is better, it would be great to know more about a Lao restaurant in the E.V...

                          1. re: hungrycomposer

                            I've tried the East Village location myself; it's so-so. I'll stick with Queens.

                          2. re: DaveCook

                            I went by Lao San since I live in the neighborhood, and the only thing I found at 26 E. Broadway that looked like a restaurant only had chinese writing on the awning, the people working there spoke no english, and the menu was solely in chinese. No Lao writing. So I'm unsure if this is actually it, but it's kind of the only possibility. If someone can tell me what to order phonetically (preferably vegetarian or fish) I can give it a try. If someone can read chinese names for Lao dishes, I'm happy to photograph the menu and post it here.

                            In this picture (http://www.daplus.us/ShowPhoto.aspx?a...) it's the place with the checkered awning.

                            1. re: ephramzz

                              Why not look around to see what other people are eating and order by pointing? Works in many places/countries where one cannot speak the language.

                            2. re: DaveCook

                              I visited on Halloween. The lady who eventually served me interrupted our pantomime to answer the phone "Lao San," but I couldn't identify any Lao writing or dishes, either. Noodle soup seemed to be all that was on offer, with up to three add-ins, for $5. I went for squid, squid, and squid, which had a curious taste.

                              I soon realized that the chef dealt with it just as many Chinese joints deal with chicken: Hack away, and serve everything. In this case, many of the squid rings still bore both guts and cartilage. (Take the guts, leave the cartilage, perhaps in one of those tiny bowls usually assigned to hold hot sauce.) Photos of the checkered exterior, and my texturally enhanced soup, are attached.

                              Chinatown Snack
                              26 E Broadway, New York, NY 10002

                              1. re: DaveCook

                                dave that las picture confirms what I thought from the beginning of this thread; that it was just a chinese restaurant that happened to have "lao" (which means old) in it. the chinese writing on the awning says "Old Three" so its just a homonym-type thing. got our hopes up and everything!

                                1. re: bigjeff

                                  i'm pretty sure that is a fujian place, i stopped by once and the menu is just a typical cheap fujian menu

                                  the chinese says "lao san xiao chi" which as big jeff said means old three small eats basically...this is definitely not a lao restaurant

                            3. re: ephramzz

                              "Khao Soi" is also a northern Lao dish. You probably didn't see anything that jumped out as being Lao, because you assumed that Lao dishes are the ones that you wouldn't see on Thai menus. However, there are many dishes on Thai menus that are neither purely Lao or Thai, but shared by both cuisines (i.e. "Khao Soi", "Pad Lao"/"Pad Thai", "Tom Yum"). But most importantly, there are also traditional Lao dishes that are served at Thai restaurants. So when you saw those Lao dishes at Zabb in Queens, you assumed that they were Thai, but in fact they're actually Lao dishes.

                        2. I have dear friends that are Laos that have sort of adopted me as a member of the family, and am very fortunate to be treated to large Laos feasts whenever I visit them. I live in NYC and crave Laos food. Fortunately, by accident I wandered into Zabb on Roosevelt in Jackson Heights. I literally was in tears while eating the Tom Yum. Just like my Laos Mom's. The green papaya salad spot on! I love this place. Of course, there is nothing like home-made, but Zabb comes close to Mom's.

                          1. Closest and best I know is Phien's Kitchen in Lowell, Massachusetts. Their purple rice dessert alone is worth the trip. I'm partial to the shaved beef tongue in bitter sauce, but you can't go wrong with anything on the menu. It's cash only, and you can bring your own alcoholic beverages. Dinner for two for $50.

                            5 Replies
                            1. re: kad barma

                              the new Zabb-Elee on 2nd Ave (near 4th St) has solved this problem...the only authentic and delicious Lao/Isaan food in Manhattan...highly recommended...

                              Zabb Elee
                              75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                              1. re: Simon

                                Trying Zabb Elee for dinner tonight. Any recommendations?

                                Zabb Elee
                                75 2nd Ave, New York, NY 10003

                                1. re: gort

                                  The Thai sausage, Tom Yum soup, green papaya salad, and of course the sticky rice. Enjoy!

                                2. re: Simon

                                  They retain the traditional Jackson Heights branch on Roosevelt Avenue. I think there is now something on the awning making very clear that you can have Lao food there. Either that, or it conspicuously advertises Isaan food, which is cognate with Lao food. I went to Zabb some years ago and found it to be inferior to Poodam, from both the perspectives of Thai and Isaan food, but now Poodam is toast and Zaab is very good. Maybe it's improved since then.

                                  Also it's worth mentioning that Thai Central Station has a Lao combo or two, and Ayuda, which for my money is the best Thai operating now in NYC, serves some Isaan/Lao items. TCS was good, but not great. Ayuda will make a bonafide Lao som tam; that is to say, the pickled crab version; and it's awesome. If I remember correctly, Ayuda serves Lao sausage (sai ua), and Thai Central Station serves something similar, but distinct and also Isaan. But better than that, at Ayuda you can get the Chiang Mai pickled pork specialty sausage naem, which any serious Chowhound must try.

                                  More people praise Sripraphai than Ayuda, but if your Thai taste is northeastern or Lao (spicier and fish-saucier), then I think you might be happier with Ayuda. I'm not sure to what extent Sripraphai will do Lao style.

                                  1. re: guanubian

                                    There are many versions of papaya salads in Laos since papaya salad is one of Laos' traditional dishes. Some versions use pickled crabs, some versions use Lao hog plum called "Mak Kok" (in Lao) or "Ma Kok Lao" (in Thai), and other versions don't use pickled crabs or Lao hog plums. So pickled crab is not a standard ingredient when making papaya salad in Laos. It really is up to the person making the papaya salad and what style they're craving in any particular day.

                              2. Not in Manhattan, but in Maywood NJ. here is the link: http://www.phothailao.com/. Went there once but had a rushed meal bcos they were booked for a private party.

                                1. Surprise! There's some hidden Lao food in Manhattan now.

                                  It turns out that Mangez Avec Moi, a "pan-Asian" restaurant near City Hall, is run by a wonderful family from Laos. Nearly everything on their menu is Thai- or Vietnamese-inspired, but if you ask nicely--and if you ask far enough in advance, since some of the dishes require some serious work--the chef might make some Lao dishes for you.

                                  And if you're lucky enough to talk the chef into making off-menu Lao stuff, you'll be a happy puppy. A few of my favorite dishes from a recent visit:

                                  - homemade Lao sausage (vaguely similar to Andouille)
                                  - spicy chicken fritters, which went really well with the hot anchovy paste and sticky rice
                                  - laab, a salad-like dish made from grilled, chilled chicken (including kidneys and hearts) with galangal, mint, garlic, and scallions
                                  - a wonderfully brutal papaya salad with assloads of hot peppers, served with fried pork rinds for some extra crunch
                                  - "or", a stew made from mushrooms, greens, longbeans, chicken, hot peppers, and dill

                                  A long, rambling rundown of the meal can be found here: http://www.unitednationsoffood.com/20....

                                  Again, none of the Lao dishes appear on Mangez Avec Moi's menu at all, and the chef/owner asked us to give her a week's notice before coming in for Lao food. And the restaurant is packed during lunchtime, so she can only prepare the Lao food for dinner on weekdays. But if you don't mind some advance planning, it's great stuff. Highly recommended.

                                  Mangez Avec Moi
                                  71 W Broadway, New York, NY 10007

                                  5 Replies
                                    1. re: UnitedNationsOfFood

                                      The Lao connection at this place has been on the radar for a while ... http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/224541 . Apparently Lao dishes were once on the menu. Good to know they're still available there.

                                      Mangez Avec Moi
                                      71 W Broadway, New York, NY 10007

                                      1. re: UnitedNationsOfFood

                                        It's fair to say that Mangez Avec Moi dropped off the radar, over the years. Thanks, UNOF, for scoping it out!

                                        Dave Cook

                                        1. re: UnitedNationsOfFood

                                          I have eaten at Mangez Avec Moi several times. It is not crowded in the evening, which is odd since it is the only Thai food in Tribeca these days. Vietnamese we still have Viet Cafe. I've had a conversation a year ago with the chef/owner, but it was not a woman , it was a man. He was Lao, and he told me he cooked for a very prominent family in Laos. When I asked him why he didn't have Lao/Issan food on the menu, he said it doesn't sell. Thai and Vietnamese is what people want. I asked if he could make Lao food for me, and he did say with a days notice he would do it, but if I had 4 people. Perhaps this is the husband of the woman chef/owner UN of Food speaks of. I have had an equal number of bad dishes at Mangez Avec Moi, as good dishes. But the people are friendly and for dinner as I said it is usually empty, late lunch also it is empty. I believe the other day when I passed by they had a sign in the window that they were looking for a partner. Interesting idea.

                                          1. re: foodwhisperer

                                            hmm that'd be interesting if he'd do lao food, id def be interested in trying that

                                            i think ive only had some of their food once, but southeast asia is home to alot of my favorite foods so im sure id like it

                                        2. I read a post elsewhere by the reliable DaveCook that Zabb Elee in downtown Manhattan is owned by Isaan folk and the ex-chef of Poodam is running the kitchen. If that's true, Zabb Elee is functionally Lao and likely among the best, if not the best, Thai-regional food in NYC. Dave?

                                          3 Replies
                                          1. re: guanubian

                                            i thought someone said that some of the waitresses were actually lao at zabb elee

                                            1. re: guanubian

                                              I've not been lately, guanubian, but as of this writing...


                                              ...the former chef of Poodam was the chef at Zabb Elee. As for waitresses, Lau, over the course of multiple meals, mine were a multinational lot, but none were from Laos. If that's changed, I'd be interested to hear it.

                                              Dave Cook

                                              1. re: DaveCook

                                                4 of the servers I've had were from BKK

                                            2. There's a truly fantastic Lao restaurant in the DC area now, Bangkok Golden 3 at Seven Corners. It's nominally a Thai restaurant, but the chef, Seng Luangrath, is Lao and has an extensive Lao menu. If you search the DC board you'll find a lot of useful info, and might even talk Steve Siegel into joining you--he knows their menu quite well. Seng often makes off-menu specials, so you should let her guide your choices. I've been there many times and never had anything I didn't enjoy, which is saying a lot when you get beef liver and pork skin larb, fermented and pounded fish, and many other unusual dishes--most of those are not on the menu, but they're usually available. If you know of some apecial dish you want, and the ingredients are available, I expect she would be happy to make it for you. BG3 is easily worth a trip from NYC, but if you go you'll want to go right back for more. (And yes, this is making me plan a detour to DC on my way home at the end of the month. Don't say I didn't warn you!)


                                              As for Phien's Kitchen, I've been there once, and it was decent, but nowhere in the league of BG3. I think it may have changed ownership recently.

                                              4 Replies
                                              1. re: KWagle

                                                This is the Manhattan board. I love DC but won't be making a round-trip just to have a Lao meal, and if I did, I'd look in the DC board.

                                                1. re: Pan

                                                  I might be crazy enough to do it.

                                                2. re: KWagle

                                                  A Thai restaurant with a chef from either Lao or Issan (about 40% of the population of Thailand) would likely be able to cook Lao/Issan food. As stated above, Lao and Issan food are mostly the same with the exception that the Lao food tends to be a little less spicy than Issan version. I was teasing my friend after returning to BKK from Laos last week about Lao not having Lao food but only Issan food -- and she told me that.... same same Issan food is Lao food. Of course the Som Tam (Papaya Salad) that is mostly served in Thai restaurants will either have no commonality with the Thai version or if you are lucky will be the Thai version (Thai version is made with dried shrimp, lighter sauce, and typically sweeter; while the Issan version is made with typically brined black rice paddy crab, darker in colour and less sweet). Larb is the national dish of Lao and also in Issan as well, although I believe the Lao/Issan version may be made with rawer food. If a Thai restaurant is run by a Thai they will make Issan food as well, but often towards Thai tastes and smell profiles. (same same but different)

                                                  1. re: cacruden

                                                    Lao food is actually quite spicy. My Thai friends have told me many times that Lao foods are spicier than Thai foods as well as spicier than the Lao foods eaten in Issan. Remember that Laos has several regions and the regional cuisines are not identical to one another. Northern regional Lao cuisine is not as spicy as the central and southern regions of Laos where they prefer their foods very spicy. Some people tend to refer to Issan when talking about Lao foods for whatever reason, but they really should refer to the dishes in Laos itself when wanting to truly learn about Lao cuisine and the various papaya salad versions that exist in Laos. Pickled crab-style is only one version of Lao papaya salad. Some versions use fruits and some don't. Some are light on fish sauce and other ones are heavy on fish sauce. Some use crab paste and others don't, etc. Travel from northern Laos all the way down to southern Laos to sample all of the various styles.