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Jan 30, 2009 05:19 PM

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

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  1. 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
    Combination $2.50
    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

    2 Replies
    1. re: rworange

      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

      Kow Poon
      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

      Pon pla
      Boiled catfish with eggplant and chili pepper with fish sauce $5.95

      Mok Gai
      Steam chicken with vermicelli, green onions, lime leaves and chili $5.95

      Deep fried tilapia with sweet chili sauce $6.95

      Pad Talay
      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

      1. re: rworange

        Miang Kam- like this but using lettuce instead of chaploo leaves?

      2. 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

        2 Replies
        1. re: AntarcticWidow

          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

          1. re: rworange

            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.

        2. 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

          1. 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).

            4 Replies
            1. re: yummyrice

              Thanks !!!

              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

              1. re: rworange

                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.

                1. re: yummyrice

                  Again, thanks so much for the info. Yes, the generic Thai stuff is really uninteresting to me.

                  I was in the market the other day and they have really reorganized a lot since adding the restaurarant.

                  That Luang Market
                  1610 23rd St, San Pablo, CA

                  1. re: rworange

                    You're welcome. I think they're planning to open a dance club so they'll most likely need to make room for a dance floor.

            2. 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

              1 Reply
              1. re: josquared

                If you haven't already done so, you should try their "Nam Khao" (Lao fried rice ball salad/wraps) at Ano Thai Lao.