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Lao New Year, UN Plaza, San Francisco

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Brief report on the festival today in SF - stopped by around 1 pm:

Overall, I was a little disappointed at this year's festival compared to the one in 2010 (I missed it last year). There were only about 4 food vendors and among those only one or two was from a restaurant that was from somewhere truly out of the way that I'd never ordinarily visit (I was hoping for some of the places in Stockton to show up, but I think the only one from outside the bay was based in Modesto). Additionally the Beerlao people were only serving regular lager at the time I showed up - the dark version had not yet been chilled, so we passed on beer.

We ended up getting the combo plates from Johnny's Cafe, which appears to be a mild-mannered donut and sandwich joint on Shattuck in Oakland by day. Not even sure they ordinarily serve Lao/Thai food from the cafe. They ran out of sticky rice so we settled for steamed.

-Papaya salad: nice and spicy, crisp papaya, a good lime sourness, very small amount of dried shrimp for funkiness, typical weak winter tomato slice plus some iceberg lettuce. An above average version; I would have liked more funk and complexity, but definitely worth getting.

-Cambodian sausage links: these were very different from the huge, lemongrassy Lao sausages I tried at the festival in 2010, but good in their own way. Nice and garlicky, with a tang that I think must have come from a bit of fermenting. These reminded me of the sour grilled pork I had in Luang Prabang a few years back, which was one of my favorite meat dishes ever.

-Egg rolls: didn't have high hopes for these, but enjoyed them quite a bit. Crispy, not too greasy, and a good balance of flavor with plenty of pork inside.

Would be interested in hearing whether Johnny's has SE Asian dishes available regularly or if this is a one-shot deal.

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  1. johnny's cafe isn't too far from brick's pig house & dorsey's locker. drove by johnny's many times. looks like a donut place, sign says they sell chinese food. closes pretty early. never been in there.

    it's a few blocks from the arco station that's next to the .55th? st. offramp.

    1 Reply
    1. re: shanghaikid

      Yes. It is at the N.W. corner of 55th street and Shattuck

    2. I know they have sandwiches, cheesesteaks & Chinese in addition to the donuts.

      Sandwiches are cheap (<$5) and decent (basic deli fare). Haven't tried the Chinese.

      I'll have to pay more attention if they have other SE Asian, if I go back.

      ------------------
      Johnny's Cafe
      5501 Shattuck Ave, Oakland, CA

      1. I drive past Johnny's often. It is a totally non-descript place where a bus driver or someone waiting for the bus sometimes goes in to get a donut.

        I suspect they don't serve Lao dishes at the store. But I wonder if enough of us stop by and put in a request, maybe they would heed the call...

        4 Replies
        1. re: escargot3

          drop by johnny's today. it's basically a burger, donut, sammie, and chinese food joint.
          no lao dishes regulary. johnny will make some lao dishes next week for the lao community.

          so,
          monday, may 7th, he will have a chicken and beef dish available at his donut shop.
          (just relaying what i heard, no warranties).

          1. re: shanghaikid

            it's on my calendar! thanks for chatting it up with him and getting the info.

            1. re: escargot3

              dropped by and picked up a glazed donut @,75. fluffy, as good as the 1.25 ones!

              beef on rice (8) was available. so i ordered it. the order included 4 beef skewers, short grain rice, and a vinegary tomato/lettuce salad. the beef wasn't on the counter. had to ask for it. it's in the kitchen.

              everything tasted wonderful. beef not the flank steak kind but a fattier cut. lots of spices and marination. can taste ginger, sweet, and tart notes.-great stuff. different from thai version.

              turns out johnny recognized me when i patronized his restaruants in the 80's (siam cafe on san pablo ave & on telegraph ave). in the berkeley area.

              noticed a flyer on his window about a festival around the 21th. probably he will have some lao dishes at this shop also.

              1. re: shanghaikid

                Stopped by around 4:30 just as they were closing, but when I asked about beef skewers a woman inside said she would make some for me. They were curious how I knew about these, so I told them about chowhound. I agree the skewers were great. Came with a salad w/ lettuce, tomato, and orange segments, rice, and 2 eggrolls. She said they were doing another festival in SF at the end of the month. I told her I lived nearby and would be back.