North Texas Becomes America’s Top Destination for Laotian Food

From top left to right, clockwise: Khao Poon soup, papaya salad, sticky rice, stir-fry rice, Laab salad, Lao sausage at Zaap Kitchen

Dallas’ next culinary revolution began in a quiet specialty grocery store in Irving, a small shop where boxes of imported foods line the metal shelving all the way up to the ceiling. Here, in 2004, a woman named Boonmie Phennara fired up a Bunsen burner to make dinner for visiting friends. They told her she was wasting her kitchen skills running a grocery.

She intended to keep things small. Instead, Nalinh Market’s Bunsen burner sparked a rush of food from Laos that is sweeping across Dallas and Fort Worth. A young generation of Laotian-American restaurateurs, inspired by family traditions and a desire to keep their heritage alive, is determined to make the cuisine an essential part of Dallas’ culinary identity.

Since January 2016, 10 Laotian restaurants, food trucks and farmers market stalls have opened in Dallas-Fort Worth, with an 11th coming soon. The newcomers join a small group of older, more traditional eateries like Nalinh Market. Now, unexpectedly, a nationwide Lao food movement finds many of its leaders in North Texas, a region so rich in sticky rice, laap and papaya salad that it has become the biggest, most exciting Laotian food scene in North America.

Laab salad at Zaap Kitchen
The egg roll appetizer at Mai Eats
Papaya salad at Zaap Kitchen
The team at Saap Lao Kitchen (from left to right): Frank Chanthorn, Elson Douangdara (bottom), Cliff Douangdara (top), Kim Chanthorn (top), Frick Chanthorn (bottom), Sandy Sichanh
The beef jerky line from Saap Lao Kitchen.
“Sai” Anita Dangerfield of Mai Eats
Khao Poon soup at Zaap Kitchen

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