Chef Seng Luangrath has come a long way since the days when aficionados knew to ask for the semi-secret Lao menu at Bangkok Golden, her Seven Corners restaurant mostly specializing in Thai food. The Lao menu started garnering buzz, catching the attention of critics and inspiring Luangrath to open her debut all-Lao spot, Thip Khao, in the District.
Eventually, Luangrath renamed Bangkok Golden to Padaek, the Lao word for fish sauce, to reflect the new emphasis on her native cuisine (though many Thai favorites still grace the menu). When the food court at Tysons Galleria relaunched after the closure of Isabella Eatery—now called Urbanspace—Luangrath brought Lao dishes (sticky rice platters, noodle soups) to the mall crowd with Sen Khao.
With son Bobby Pradachith also serving as chef, Luangrath opened Hanumanh in DC’s booming Shaw neighborhood this spring. And while Pradachith has said many of the dishes at Thip Khao and Padaek pull from family recipes, this new spot feels like we’re moving forward into the future of Lao food with the mother-son team.
Shaw is just about the most drink-friendly spot in the city. Wine-lovers should explore the menu at La Jambe (1550 Seventh St. NW, Washington, DC); beer fiends can sample the house brews at Right Proper Brewing Co. (624 T St. NW, Washington, DC); and serious cocktail types will love the no-nonsense All Souls (725 T St. NW, Washington, DC).
The small menu includes naem khao kob, a sort of deconstructed version of the popular naem khao found at their other spots. Here, the ingredients of Luangrath’s famed puffed rice salad are served in pretty piles of toasted peanuts, sliced red onion, cilantro and red chiles. Pour the tamarind fish sauce over the whole shebang and toss it before tucking it into lettuce leaves. Tapioca dumplings stuffed with salted radish, pork and peanuts are a challenging texture for some, but those who can get past the savory-gummy situation are rewarded with sweet, salty, spicy and crunchy little flavor bombs. On the other end of the spectrum, grilled sticky rice cakes are nearly flavorless without dunking in the Maggi-cured yolk sauce.
Tangy chicken broth teeming with mushrooms, ginger, lemongrass, whole chiles, chicken and cilantro tastes like it would cure absolutely anything. (Pro tip: Watch out for bones.) Green curry scallops accented with snap peas didn’t much resemble the Thai staple we’re all familiar with—it would have been more appealing with a less viscous sauce—but the combination of fresh dill, pea shoots and scallops were as beautiful as they were tasty.
Calories are well spent on: a rich tapioca pudding flavored with coconut and a whiskey-banana curd.
The space exudes the coolness of a tattooed chef thanks to colorful murals depicting a yellow sea roiling under monkeys in boats or perched atop a dragon’s head—nods to the Hindu monkey god for which the restaurant is named. Like chefs Luangrath and Pradachith, these rascally monkeys are on a journey—and diners leave feeling like happy stowaways.
So, no—not everything is perfect. But who cares when noshing on food that feels this fun, modern and thought-provoking, especially without the more punishing price points at other city restaurants? It’s good to push your own boundaries while the chefs push theirs.
Tapioca dumplings, puffed rice salad, whiskey-banana-coconut dessert
Edgy, urban and funky, Hanumanh is as lovable for its playful decor, diverse dining crowd and ultra-friendly service as for its flavorful food. // 1604 Seventh St. NW, Washington, DC; Open for dinner Wednesday–Monday (closed Tuesdays); Appetizers: $9-$15; Entrees: $14-$22
U Street Corridor
Chef Enrique Limardo has been making waves with his experimental pan-Latin menu at Seven Reasons off the main drag of U Street. // 2208 14th St. NW, Washington, DC
Bangkok native and chef Ben Tiatasin found a love of Lao food working at Bangkok Golden and Thip Khao, and she brings that passion to Laos in Town. // 250 K St. NE, Washington, DC
Duke’s Grocery opened a third London-inspired gastropub, bringing 12 draft lines and its killer burger to a new neighborhood. // 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Washington, DC