Thip Khao: Rising Above

As life slowly returns to normal, albeit in a modified way, when it comes to dining, I feel like a cicada emerging from the ground.

I’m fully vaccinated but trying to determine what this means in terms of my relationship with restaurants. Neighborhood drops are still happening- and I hope this is a trend that lives long into the future. I love the convenience, particularly on a weeknight. As I ponder small get-togethers with friends, carryout remains appealing. Both options are helping restaurants make up for revenue losses based on limited capacity- which in DC is still at 25% indoors.

What about dining at restaurants? Spring has made outdoor dining a wondrous possibility. I occasionally took advantage of this option in the last year, and am ready for a full embrace. I’ve just started dining indoors at restaurants, which many still regard with skepticism. But now that I’ve reacquainted myself with the sensation of eating without having to take the elements into consideration, I’m leaning into it. Plus, those cicadas will soon be out in full force.

Whether indoors, outdoors, carryout, or hood drop, I am making a deliberate effort to support Asian-owned restaurants in the face of the recent attacks on the Asian community. This brings me to Thip Khao, the Laotian restaurant in DC’s Columbia Heights.

Blog post writing is typically a slow process for me, and it’s worsened during COVID times. It’s an activity that’s pitted against work, family, volunteerism, an addiction to social media, and mental exhaustion at the end of the day.  As a result, although I start writing about Thip Khao in early April, I take a pause that lasts for weeks.

When I’m ready to hit the keyboard again I discover that the restaurant has been the target of a break-in. Thip Khao suffers the loss of property and considerable damage to the interior. It appears to be unknown whether this is a hate crime or just a crime, and it doesn’t matter. Restaurants are struggling to survive, and a break-in seriously affects the livelihood of the owners. It also serves as a kick in the pants to the entire restaurant community. This further fuels my desire to write about Thip Khao, and to visit other Asian-owned restaurants in the area.

I’ve dined at Thip Khao numerous times, and first wrote about it in February 2015 when it was relatively new. Chef/owner Seng Luangrath works diligently to promote the cuisine of Laos through her restaurants, at special events, and as the founder of the Lao Food Movement, which helps support the Lao community in the U.S.

While Lao food has many similarities to Thai, dishes are typically uplifted by an abundance of lime and fresh herbs. Two other prevalent ingredients: padaek, a fermented fish paste, and sticky rice. Chef Seng pays homage to them both with a Falls Church restaurant named Padaek and Thip Khao, which is named for the bamboo vehicle designed to hold sticky rice.

Thip Khao is currently offering a slightly scaled-down pandemic menu which includes a welcome selection of vegan and fish dishes. On this occasion, and with increasing regularity, I find myself drawn to meatless meals. I’m not going the Epicurious route and dropping beef entirely from my repertoire. But when a restaurant continues to up their game with meat-free dishes that creatively and masterfully hit every sweet, sour, bitter, and salty note, I’m ready to dive in.

Every cuisine features a version of fried dough stuffed with something sweet or savory. Thip Khao has Khanonom Mung Falang. After months of carryout when one of the golden rules is to avoid fried foods, there is pure delight in consuming a dish at its intended temperature and texture. I hope to never take this for granted again. Bring me ALL the fried food.

The thick and crispy exterior is a gateway to perfectly spiced curry-tinged potatoes. I dip it into the sweet and sour sauce, eagerly take a bite, and revel in flavors that take me over the moon.

Thip Khao Khanonom Mung Falang

Moak Paa is a popular Laotian dish featuring fish steamed in banana leaves.  Salmon is infused with an herbal rice paste and blanketed with a layer of onion, dill, and wood ear mushrooms. To unwrap the parcel is to unleash a heavenly earthy aroma that deserves its own moment of silence before consuming.

Thip Khao Moak Paa

Pad Kee Mao -wok tossed flat noodles- are boosted by chili-garlic sauce, fish sauce, basil, tomato, bell peppers, and onions and an option of tofu, chicken or shrimp. The spices cling beautifully to tofu, and even though the heat has us reaching for our water glasses between bites, the stars in our eyes are more than a reaction to the heat.

Thip Kao Pad Kee Mao

Chef Seng and her son Boby Pradachith, who is a chef and co-owner of Thip Khao, have always been a presence at DC charity events. Pradachith recently cooked at a dinner in honor of Embrace Race, an organization dedicated to educating young children to be informed and thoughtful about race and social justice.  Chef Seng participated in the AAPI Women Lead dinner to help end violence against Asian and Pacific Islander women. Their Instagram feeds (@chefseng, @pradachith23) are filled with heartfelt sentiments about the importance of participating in these awareness-building events.

May is AAPI Heritage month. There is no better time to support Thip Khao, as it rises to the challenges and continues to soar.

Thip Khao, 3462 14th St NW, Washington, DC

 

 

Time to March on from Febru-weary with Neighborhood Drops & Food Trucks

It was one tough February. Ice, snow, and too many days that were downright dreary. Can we just rename the month Febru-weary? As we catch a break with some warmer days, there’s a light at the end of this long, dark tunnel.  Aren’t we all ready to March forward? The winter weather dampened my enthusiasm […]

Ema Rossi Pizzeria Napoletana: Driving Forces

As the pandemic continues to necessitate restaurant takeout, my car has become an outpost dining room. Seeds from everything bagels line the creases of the leather seats. Donut crumbs and tiny flecks of fried chicken skin can be detected on the carpet. These morsels are wiped away from week to week, but they are swiftly […]

Anju, Ghostburger, Yellow the Cafe: Let There Be Light!

It’s getting darker earlier. It’s colder outside. Restaurant owners are understandably anxious about how they will survive the winter.  Optimism and action in these pandemic times is essential. These past weeks I have filled much of my spare time lying prostrate on the couch, engrossed in CNN, MSNBC, and television shows that I consider anti-anxiety […]

Ristorante i Ricchi: Dust Off Your Passport

I came across my passport the other day. My heart lurched, and I sighed so loudly that I startled myself. How long will it be before I can use it again? These days a thrilling journey is getting in my car and driving downtown to dine on a restaurant patio, which I’ve only done a […]

Counting My Blessings: 10 Years of Been There, Eaten That

This week marks the ten-year anniversary of Been There, Eaten That. Writing this restaurant blog has often been anxiety-inducing, frustrating, even maddening, but ultimately it’s been rewarding. While I’m slowing down in more ways than one, I still care deeply about supporting restaurants and for better or worse, articulating my feelings online. It’s a weird […]

Restaurant Relationship Status: It’s Complicated

My relationship status with restaurants became official in August 2010, when I launched Been There, Eaten That. My feelings have intensified through the years. Fine dining has played a role in every milestone in my life. Family members and friends- without exception- can relay a story about dining with me, and most likely how I […]

Questions or comments?
Send an email to lorisue6@gmail.com