A family meal
Thai Lao Cuisine
Thai Lao Cuisine5484 Dewey Dr.
Fair Oaks, CA 95628
With everything set up so easily for us to stay home, why bother going out to eat? Special occasions aside, dinner at the mom-and-pop down the street is no longer a family ritual. One such mom and pop, Thai Lao Cuisine, even sits in a cursed location that has had as many reincarnations as there are Thai restaurants in a five-mile radius.
Like all strip mall restaurants, it’s unassuming. The décor is forgettable and there’s no ambiance to mention. But the patrons are familiar and comfortable: A few grimy bikers enjoying their spring rolls in one corner and a gaggle of retired grandmas loudly gossiping over noodles in another. In corner number three, Thai Lao’s grandma babysits a small child, who is clearly the restaurant’s little mascot.
After ordering, the boy came by to say hello and since I played toe soccer with him, he came by frequently to play, giving his dad (the owner) something to adorably chase around.
Thai Lao serves Thai and Lao cuisines as the name suggests. On the Thai side, everything tasted and looked standard: the Tom Kha soup ($9.95) was perfectly sour and full of veggies, the Green Curry ($9.95) was milky and savory and the Pad Thai ($9.95) hit all the right notes with a sweet tamarind taste. While solid, nothing about the dishes stood out from any other Thai restaurant.
But Thai Lao does deliver the feared, notorious and oft-times banished Thai hot that thrill-seeking palates crave. A good server can read their customer and offer the right heat suggestion—level 2—and she was right on: just enough to light a small fire on the tongue.
The Lao dishes are the more exciting items on the menu. Thai Lao’s Larb (minced meat salad) ($10.95) is close-your-eyes addictive. The bite of tangy lime with a splash of cool mint make a mark that your taste buds crave. I barely looked up as I wolfed down the Larb, even when my new little friend attempted to play “grocery store” with me as his father chased after him with a smile.
Thai Lao’s signature dish is the Lao Sausage ($14.95), which is made in-house with herbs grown from the owners’ personal garden. It’s served browned and cut with rice, steamed veggies and a hot dipping sauce. In the first bite you can taste its originality: the tart kaffir lime leaves, calm aromatic lemongrass and a hint of syrupy galangal. Combined with the dipping sauce, steamed vegetables and rice, it makes for a welcome bite. Yet, the sausage alone is slightly tough and dry.
But that’s OK because you don’t come here for a showstopping meal. You come here because the little mascot gives you a big grin as a welcome and a pout when you’re leaving. You come because your server knows what kind of spice mood you’re in. You come for a chat about gardening with the owner. In a world where community is being lost to delivery and online orders, places like Thai Lao exist to bring us back together.