San Pablo: That Luang Kitchen Lao Cuisine - wow !!!
I was FINALLY going to try Kaoneow Cafe ... too late ... RIP.
Then I noticed that That Luang Market opened a cafe next door.
IMO, That Luang Market is one of the better Thai markets in the immediate ares, so I gave the kitchen a try.
The area is has lots of Laotians and this from my limited Thai experience seems to have a mainly Lao menu.
Didn't want anything with rice or noodles so I ordered Mok Pla - steamed catfish with green onion, dill, lime leaves and fish sauce. Did not know what to expect and was expecting the usualy Thai soupy sauce with pieces of fish ... but no
It was a fish tamale. The ground up catfish was mixed with all of the herbs and wrapped in a banana leaf. It came with some fresh steamed brocolli that had a zing of ginger, some steamed cabbage for heat control and what appears to be a home made sriracha sauce.
This place actually had business unlike most of the Thai restaurants in the area. On one table there was Nam Kow - rice soom moo peanut fried lemmongrass and lettuce. I watched fascinated (and hopefully not rudely) as a huge plate of lettuce leaves were used to wrap up the large plate of some sort of mixture with a little sticky rice as a side.
There is Thai pho and the Larb which includes beef, chicken, pork or duck is Lao style (I asked)
Don't know too much about Thai food but the menu seems different than what I've seen in the past.
The room is nothing fancy. There's a big screen tv on one wall tuned to Thai cable. There's a nice selection of condiments on the table that includes sliced jalepenos.
Very nice wait person. After ordering she just checked to see if I had a clue and said "This is Lao style. Do you like spicy?" When I said yes, she let it drop and went off and got the order.
That Luang Kitchen Lao Cuisine
1614 23rd St, San Pablo, CA
My detour in order to lunch at That Luang Kitchen might have been my first visit to San Pablo, but it will not be my last. The owner was very genial, the food was terrific and the prices are rock-bottom. Wanting to add some new intell to the sampling of the menu here, I started with
Kao Piek, $5.50: handmade rice noodles in soothing chicken soup with boneless chicken, cubes of pork blood, fried shallots, scallions, and cilantro. The soup was a bit muddy tasting. From the taste of the chicken meat, this seemed to be a supermarket grade bird. The homemade rice noodles were thinner and softer than other times I’ve tried kao piek.
With the low prices, I could easily spring for another dish,
Mok Pla, $5.99: steamed catfish mousse (and chunks) seasoned with kaffir lime, galangal and scallions, wrapped in banana leaf. This was served with blanched yu choy and roasted tomato-chile-garlic sauce. I’ve had Thai and Cambodian versions of this custardy seafood prep. This differed by having more chunks rather than a finer texture and that no coconut milk was used, making the flavor of each element more direct and distinct. The scent of the banana leaf was more prominent here.
The spicy roasted tomato and chile condiment, jaew maak len, would put a champion salsa maker to shame. Absolutely delicious with the mok pla and utterly craveable.
Earlier this month, Food and Wine published a piece by San Francisco-based writer and editor, Emily Kaiser, “Laos Food: Searching for a Lost Cuisine”. The author laments that she was unable to find a Lao restaurant or taste Laotian food in this country. Then she sets off to Laos to try for herself, and mentions the fish custard and jaew mak len in her piece. I think I need to let her know to look across San Francisco Bay to San Pablo.
re: Melanie Wong
re: Melanie Wong
I can't help but think that Melanie's and rworange's many fine posts regarding their discoveries and experiences with Laotian cuisine helped to spark Emily Kaiser's own interest in discovering Laotian cuisine for herself. Now, there's a wonderful Food & Wine article about Laotian cuisine with beautiful photos of the foods from Laos.
Thanks, Melanie and rworange!...and others like sfbing for showing your interest in our cuisine! =) Hopefully, there will be more articles about Laotian cuisine in other magazines.
Thanks and you're welcome, but I decided to join this site after I had read several posts by you and others regarding Lao dishes. Some questions about Laotian cuisine had been asked so I decided to join Chowhound to provide some insider knowledge. So you, Melanie, and some of the other 'hounds pretty much got the ball rolling and therefore deserve any credit relating to that article. =)
Looking forward to reading more of your Lao food adventures in the Bay Area.
Well, don't know how much any of us inspired the article as she is East Coast based. Still, it is nice to see this cusine getting a little love and attention.
Anyway, in that article, she writes about "chicken sandwiches smoldering with a sweet chile sauce".
She says they are similar to banh mi "they're made with chicken, grated carrots and watercress stuffed inside a baguette. Where banh mi get much of their richness from pork, the Lao version gets most of its flavor from the condiment jaew bong".
Do any Bay Area Lao restaurants sell these sandwiches?
In that article, I believe Emily was referring to Luang Prabang-style sandwiches (with Jaew Bong) found in Northern Laos and not just any common Lao-style sandwiches available in Laos. I don't know of any Bay Area Lao restaurants that sell Luang Prabang sandwiches because in Luang Prabang the breads are made fresh and the chicken and other meats are grilled fresh as well. I doubt that any of the Lao restaurants in the Bay Area would take the time to bake their own breads, but who knows?
With that said, the closest thing I suppose would be the sandwiches sold at That Luang Kitchen (TLK) in San Pablo. The sandwiches are those generic French-inspired Asian sandwiches common in Laos, Vietnam, and Cambodia...the kind with pate known as "Khao Jie Pate" in Laos, "Bahn Mi" in Vietnam, and I believe "Num Pang" in Cambodia.
The sandwiches sold at TLK aren't specifically "Luang Prabang-style" because the chef isn't from Luang Prabang, but you might want to try asking the chef to skip the pate and instead spread some of TLK's own Jaew Bong on their chicken sandwiches to kind of make them more Luang Prabang-inspired.
Or better yet, print out this recipe and share it with the waiter or chef. Since TLK already has Jaew Bong, the recipe should be quite simple to follow.
I think TLK should add Luang Prabang-style sandwiches to their list of sandwiches. More customers should ask them to offer Luang Prabang-style sandwiches.
By the way, according to that article, Emily is actually San Francisco-based.
Thanks. I'll give that a try.
You food and wine link and other info was so good, I asked the mods to move it to the General Topics board. It was about Laos food in general and a lot more people will benefit from that info there. Hopefully, that will inspire a few people in different parts of the country to seek out Laotian food.
Here's the link on the General Topics board
Went on a Saturday and asked about farm fresh larb. The owner said he had to stop doing that because the health inspectors said he couldn't use meat that hadn't been inspected by the USDA. He tried once to substitute meat from Costco but said it tasted "bad".
We tried the ook with chicken (nice and dilly with chunks of eggplant), and the bamboo shoot soup with yanang leaves juice. The soup was very interesting. It was full of bamboo shoots, mushrooms, and a herby leaf that kind of reminded me of nepitella. Very complex flavor. It has kind of an inky gray color that is a little unattractive, though.
They don't offer farm fresh beef larb anymore? That's so unfortunate especially for those who love rare beef larb. Doesn't the USDA inspect cattle farms anyway? So in a way, the meat should qualify as USDA-inspected meat.
Anyway, the owner is right as far as using store bought meats (i.e. from Costco, Safeway, etc..)...they just don't taste the same as farm fresh meats.
That bamboo shoot soup with yanang leaves is a very traditional Lao soup called "Gaeng Nor Mai". The inky greenish-gray color is from the yanang leaves and yes I do agree that it makes the soup look a little unattractive. However, the dish can be made less inky by cutting back on the yanang leaves, but it's the yanang leaves that give the dish its very unique flavor....that and Phak Khayaeng (another Lao herb). Some Laotians would add squash and other colorful vegetables to the soup to give it some color so that it's not just an inky greenish-colored soup.
A few samples of Lao herbs:
Yeah, apparently the health inspectors came by and he got in some trouble for having beef in his refrigerator that didn't have "inspected by USDA" stamp.
As someone who has bought actual animals recently, I can tell you that it is tricky. The USDA doesn't inspect farms, but requires that meat that is sold for consumption is sent to a USDA approved facility. When you're buying "farm fresh meat" technically, you're buying a live animal and paying someone to kill and cut it up for you. It is therefore not USDA inspected and therefore you can't sell it.
What's laughable is that if your farmer and processor are reputable, the meat is probably at least as safe as the stuff that comes out of those USDA feedlots.
Three of us checked this place out today (after stuffing ourselves with poppyseed rugelach at Crixa). I'm a huge fan of Laotian food, so I was kind of sad that Kaoneow is no more. We ordered:
1. Sticky rice, which came in a generous portion with no plastic bag. Not too hot and easy to handle. Much better than Lers Ros Thai, although I think Green Papaya in Oakland has the best sticky rice with a very herbaceous fragrance.
2. Nem Khao, which is fried sticky rice salad, with peanuts, pickled sausage, and pork skin. I like this version better than Champa Garden, because of the generous amount of pig skin, although it really could have been a lot spicier. (To be fair, I didn't ask for it to be spicy.) It wasn't quite as good as Kaoneow's which had crisper rice and offered a better veggie plate with mustard greens leaves. We happily took it home because I happened to have a big bag of mustard leaves and some chili peppers at home.
3. The mok pla was excellent. Moist with chunks of catfish mixed into the mousse. We think it may have been better than the one at Green Papaya. Thanks to rworange for the tip.
4. The bitterness that, to me, is a hallmark of Laotian cooking is really hard to find in restaurants here because a lot of people don't like the flavor, I think. So, I wasn't surprised to find that I LOVED the grilled tongue with bitter sauce. The tongue was nicely smoky and cooked medium rare. Chewy in that tongue kind of way. I thought the bitter sauce (served on the side, so you can control how much you want) was perfect. However, the man who took our order said that they could also provide a tomato sauce, which I suspect is their homemade tomato-chili sauce.
5. We had an argument over the soup course--I wanted bamboo shoots, someone wanted catfish and pineapple (isn't that Vietnamese?). In the end, we asked the server to bring us his favorite soup. We ended up with beef innard soup, which had tripe, some sort of organ meat, and pork blood cubes. It was seasoned with green onions, some lime leaves, a stalk of lemongrass, and a chunk that I think may have been galangal. It was actually pretty delicate for a soup chock full of offal.
6. We also got the Lao sausage which came with the salsa. (How can one go to a Lao place without trying the sausage?) The skin was nicely crunchy and there were small chunks of fat mixed in with the meat. Not as in-your-face as Green Papaya, it was still very nice.
They've been open for about three months. The man said he was Vietnamese and his wife, who is the cook, is Lao. Which explains the section with banh mi and pho on the menu. He wistfully suggested that the next time we come, we could try the stuff from his country. He also generously brought out a gift of a coconut milk soup with taro for dessert.
I really like this place. I know it is kind of out of the way, but if you are a fan of Laotian food, you really ought to check it out. And if someone out there knows of an even better place, let me know and I'm there!
That tomato-chili sauce is a traditional Lao dipping sauce called "Jaew Maak Len" ("Jaew" = Sauce, "Maak Len" = Tomato). It's like salsa, but the ingredients are crushed together. It's one of my favorite Lao dipping sauces! I think it would be great if a Lao chef could open a Laotian Bar & Grill restaurant that serves BeerLao, various grilled items, and specializes in showcasing all of the various Lao dipping sauces. They could bring out the sauces in tiny bowls and put them all on one platter for everyone at the table to enjoy and dip their sticky rice into. They should present the sauces in the same kind of way one would find at Korean restaurants when you order their bbq'd items....small tiny plates or bowls filled with various goodies!
Hey rw - have you ever eaten at Ano Thai Lao in Vallejo?
I'm kinda' surprised they're still kicking around, not because their food is bad (my one experience was just fine and yelp at least has favorable reviews) but it's in such a non-business-friendly area of town (corner of Broadway & Tennessee, essentially)
If so, I'd be interested in hearing your comparisons
The name "That Luang" is in reference to the Lao temple in Vientiane called Pha That Luang. Anyway, That Luang Market is one of the popular Lao markets in the area.
As far as That Luang Kitchen is concerned, it's actually a Lao restaurant so there's more Lao dishes on the menu, but I believe there are a few Thai dishes, as well. Anyway, the Lao dish you referred to as "fish tamale" is one of the traditional dishes in Laos. Unlike other Southeast Asian cuisines, Lao cuisine uses a lot of dill in our traditional dishes like "Mok Pa". The Khmer and Thai versions of that kind of dish are usually heavy on coconut milk, whereas "Mok Pa" (Lao banana leaf-wrapped steamed fish) is lighter and has more flavor. It's delicious especially when eaten with sticky rice.
The word "Gaeng" means soup in the Lao language (and related languages like Thai).
Have you eaten there. Have any suggestions? Any suggestions for items for the market. A while back I did a report on the Thai markets in the area and there were all sorts of intriguing sauces there. Here's my old report on the market
Yes, I have. I go there all of the time, but only for the same grocery items / food dishes. On the grocery side of the store, they sell frozen Laotian sausages. Just buy some for your freezer and when you're craving Laotian sausages, just defrost them and then deep fry them or bake them in the oven. They also sell refrigerated Lao fermented pork sausages called Nam or Som Moo, which have sliced pork skin. I believe they also sell Lao dipping sauces like Jaew Bong (hot chili paste with beef/buffalo skin), dry spicy pastes made from insects, other various Lao dipping sauces, and Lao pickled vegetables (i.e. cabbage/green onions) with pickled beef skin. They're all meant to be eaten with sticky rice. Just check out their refrigerated section to see their selection of Lao sauces and premade or frozen Lao specialty items.
As far as the restaurant side of the market is concerned, I always order the same dishes. Please keep in mind that there are many complex Lao dishes that you won't find at a Lao restaurant because it takes too long to make them. Lao restaurants in the U.S. don't really do Lao cuisine any justice as far as showcasing the various dishes that exist in the cuisine. You should make some Lao friends and go eat at their homes if you really want to try the various Lao curries/stews, bbq'd items, sauces, soups, noodles, fried items, steamed items, desserts, etc...Anyway, back to That Luang Kitchen, I love ordering the Lao beef organ soup with pork blood cubes. The soup is sooo good! This soup is meant to be simple and delicate to counteract the saltiness/bitterness of the Beef Larb. For the Beef Larb, make sure you order it only on Fridays or Saturdays because that's when they'll use meat fresh from the farm. On other days, they will only use store bought meats, which don't taste as good as freshy killed farm bought meats. If they're not using "freshly killed" meats (be sure to ask them!) even if it's a Friday or Saturday, you probably shouldn't order the Larb "uncooked" because store bought meats don't taste good when used for the uncooked version of Larb. I usually order the rare version of their Beef Larb and if you like bitterness, then go ahead and tell them to make it a little bitter. You should get some sticky rice as well.
By the way, Lao dishes aren't usually bitter. They're only bitter if you ask the waiter to make your dishes bitter. Some Laotians, particularly the men, enjoy the bitterness because they believe that it helps make them "stronger".
There are MANY versions of Larb, so don't be surprised to taste versions that are eitehr salty, plain, bitter, sour, dry, wet, rare, cooked, delicate, or herbal, etc...there's no standard Lao Larb, because they're all different depending on the person making the Larb. The kind at That Luang Kitchen is on the subtle side (delicately flavored, not sour) with lots of toasted rice powder and it's really good when the Larb is made slightly bitter.
I've never tried these following soups at That Luang Kitchen, but I believe they also serve a northern Lao specialty soup called Khao Soy and a traditional Lao coconut curry noodle soup called Khao Poon. In Lao cuisine, Khao Poon is best when it is made with cooked pork blood cubes and sliced pork innards. Most Americans don't like exotic ingredients and therefore most Lao restaurants in the U.S. will unfortunately omit those wonderful ingredients from their recipes.
Lastly, their Lao (or Viet/Khmer) sandwiches are pretty good as well. They taste better than the ones from Chinatown.
As far as Thai cuisine is concerned, I believe the reason why rworange is not a huge fan of Thai cuisine is because Thai restaurants tend to serve generic, non-Thai items of Chinese origin to cater to Americans...i.e. egg rolls, fried dumplings, fried wontons, etc...Thai restaurants also serve traditional Lao dishes as well, but the recipes aren't as authentic as the ones you'd find at an actual Lao restaurant.
I knew there was something I forgot to report about. That first dish was so good that I dragged a friend over on Saturday to sample more of the menu. Unfortunately the other dishes, while good, weren't as good as that fish tamale.
They do have bahn mi. I had one for lunch on Sunday. Nothing to go out of your way for, but nice if you are in the immediate ... I mean San Pablo ... area and want a bahn mi.
They just use supermarket rolls, though they do toast them. I had the bbq pork which was fine and had the required veggies --- cilantro, carrot, fresh jalepeno, cucumber, uh, daikon?. $3.
On Saturday we had
- Mieg kow #11
- Fried Tilapia # 19
- unknown dish that was supposed to be ook #20
I accidently ordered the mieg kow when I wanted the next dish #12 that I saw on the first visit. It wasn't bad, but I wouldn't order it again. Soft ground crispy rice was mixed this crisp pork skins, peanuts and wrapped in lettuce leaves. There were some fried dried peppers sprinkled on top which were HOT even if wrapped in the lettuce leaf
The fried tilapia was very bony and there are just better versions at the local Mexican resturants. This came with that great chili sauce that I had on the first visit. My friend polished that off. The dish came with gingered broccoli and steamed cabbage.
- I think there was a language problem The ook was supposed to have eggplant and thinking back on it I think he might have told us that they were out and asked if we still wanted it. We got the
'ook' chicken. It was the type of Thai dish that i'm not too fond of ... meat in a soupy sauce. However, the sauce part I have to admit was very good ...fragrant with lemongrass, dill and green onion. They put some wood mushrooms in there perhaps to make up for the lack of eggplant. The friend liked this dish the best.
Decent Laos iced coffee and tea. I liked the tea better.
So far the dishes using dill have been the best.
A little from wiki on the cuisine of Laos
Is Kaoneow really closed? I called to place an order to go and their phone greeting says "hello, we're not in, call us back". I presumed they were closed for Tet. On Monday, I called BT Sandwich Deli in Pinole to phone in an order but got no answer. It eventually dawned on me that it was New Year's. I phoned in my order on Wednesday. When I stopped to pick it up, on the door was a handwritten note that they were closed Monday and Tuesday for New Year's celebration.
Looking forward to reading the menu for That Luang Kitchen
That would be good if they just took some time off. Didn't they have the name of the restaurant on the sign outside? There isn't a restaurant name on it. The condiments seemed to on the table.
Looking at the menus between Kaoneow and TLK they don't seem too similar. There are lots of dishes that are not on the TLK menu and visa versa.
Yikes. Was going to places to take the closed flag off Kaeneow for now when I noticed Royal Oak closed. I would have thought they'd make it. Seemed like a fit for the area
I don't recall if they had the name of the restaurant on the outside of the building, I just knew where to find it when you first reported on it. I'll keep my fingers crossed that they are just on holiday. It seems that business is slow everywhere.
The menu at TLK does look intriguing. I'll have to ask the guys at work if they have any recommendations. Grilled tongue? I wonder if they actually serve it. Last time I ordered from Kaoneow they still were not offering it, but they've not crossed it off the menu either.
As for the Royal Oak Pub, I've been driving past it for some time before I realized that it didn't look open anymore. Tried calling their number and it has been disconnected. I was there, oh, early last month and had a beer and a bite to eat with a friend. They had a bar portion of fish and chips. The fish was cut up into smaller pieces you could eat with your fingers rather than a fork and were pretty good.
Got distracted and running out of edit time so a quick compare to Kaneow
All same four desserts including the lod chong. TLK is a few dollars less expensive.
There are more types of pho - beef noodle, seafood, meatball
I'm wondering if there is some sort of banh mi like sandwich. The menu says
BBQ Chicken or BBQ pork $3
The have fried quails $6.95
I don't know how common Mieg Kow is. ... ground crispy rice served with lettuce, cherry tomatoes, pork skin and peantus $5.50
They have the grilled tongue on the menu $6.95
Out of time
OK, continuation of the menu.
The grilled tongue comes with a choice of tomato sauce of bitter sauce $6.95
TLK is big on soups
Gaeng pla - (spicy catfish sweet and sour) Catfish with pineapples, tomato and green onion $6.95
Gaeng Kieng Nai
Beef organs, lemongrass and green onion $5.50
Gaeng Nor Mai
Bamboo shoot, black mushrooms and yanang leaves juice $5.95
Chicken with coconut milk, special spices served with vermicelli $4.95
Gaeng Woo Seun
Clear noodles, chicken, ground pork, shrimp ball, fish ball, green onion $5.50
That Luang House Special noodle
Rice flower served with chicken soup, green onion and cilantro $5.50
I'm guessing at this point gaeng means soup in Thai.
OOK - eggplant, lemongrass, chili, dill, green onion (chicken, pork or beef) $5.95
Boiled catfish with eggplant and chili pepper with fish sauce $5.95
Steam chicken with vermicelli, green onions, lime leaves and chili $5.95
Deep fried tilapia with sweet chili sauce $6.95
Sauteed prawns, squid, mussels, chili, sweet onions, and basil $6,99
I left out the normal stuff you see on Thai menus. They do have the Lao sausage - deep fried.
Absolutely no red, green, yellow curry ... God bless them.
Don't know if Laos coffee and Laos tea are the same as regular the regular Thai beverages.
They also have fresh lime juice and a soybean drink