Cafe de Laos

South Philadelphia is awash in small, storefront restaurants that serve a variety of ethnic cuisines. Picking one out of the many can be a challenge and is often a hit or miss experience. On Sunday night, a couple of my friends and I experienced a very satisfying hit. We had dinner at Cafe de Laos. It is on 11th Street, just south of Washington, tucked into a row of other restaurants (it is right next to where that Korean BBQ place Porky and Porkie’s used to be).

Walking in is like stepping into a land very far away from Washington Ave. The walls are wood paneled, the art hanging on the walls is tasteful and interesting and the tables are set with fresh flowers and cloth napkins. And the food, oh wow.

We ordered the Mieng Kham appetizer, which billed itself as “Thai roasted coconut chips w/peanuts, lettuce, ginger, lime & palm sugar dressing.” We had no idea of what to expect and were slightly surprised when a divided platter was set down. The little sections held finely chopped lime, minced ginger, tiny dried shrimp, peanuts, toasted coconut, hot sauce and a pile of green leaves that looked like they came off a tree outside. You pick out the flavors you want to and fold them into the leaf, dipping it into the center pool of honey/palm sugar to round everything out. It was so wonderful that I’ve been plotting ways of designing a salad that would replicate those flavors.

For the entrees, we all got different curries served with coconut milk rice. Conversation stalled during that part of the meal, as we all focused on the sweet/hot/pungent flavors. My friend Seth was the winner in the dessert round, ordering their homemade Thai iced tea ice cream. My mango flavor was lovely, but didn’t hold up to his in a face to face match up.

So, what are you waiting for? Get over there. The food is excellent, the prices aren’t outrageous and how often do you get transported to another place just off Washington Ave.?

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