It didn’t take a lot of convincing for me to hit up Thip Khao, one of Washington, D.C.’s hottest restaurants that received rave reviews from critics and Yelpers alike. I finally went a couple of weeks ago, on a Monday night, and dined with a friend. We ordered a few items from the regular menu since neither one of us were feeling particularly adventurous that night. My rationale was that I ought to try the traditional dishes first, especially since it was my first time trying Laotian cuisine.
Everyone I know who’ve tried the place only had good things to say about it so my expectations were rather high. And though overall, I was pleased with my experience, I wasn’t blown away with the food like so many of my friends were. There were a couple of outstanding items worth mentioning though.
Rave: Mok Paa (steamed fish)
This was easily the best dish we ordered that night at Thip Khao. It was a rather simple one too, but one bite contained so many flavors that it didn’t take us long to devour the whole serving. There was a hint of spice courtesy of the red chili, sweetness from the coconut milk, and tang from the curry paste and dill. We ordered ours with sea bass, though you have an option to get it with blue catfish, cod, salmon, chicken, or tofu. The plate came wrapped in a fresh banana leaf, which added to its already aromatic scent. It came with a serving of sticky rice as well, served in its traditional weaved bamboo container. The portion was perfect for sharing between two people, especially if you’ve ordered other items on the menu.
Rave: Siin Heng (dried beef with sesame and ginger)
When I read the description for this dish, I couldn’t help but be curious since it reminded me of “tapa,” the Filipino equivalent of marinated beef. As it turned out, it was quite similar, though this Laotian version is bit sweeter than the Filipino counterpart. Sesame was the prominent flavor, which gave it a nutty taste. The ginger countered much of the sugar and gave the beef a hint of spice and a fragrant smell. I would highly recommend this dish. It was good as a starter but I reckon it’ll be just as good with rice as a main course.
Rant: Tam Muk Muang (green mango salad)
My friend and I both agreed that this was a dish we could have skipped. Though the green mango provided a somewhat refreshing taste, the overwhelming aftertaste of the fish sauce, as well as the excessive sugar caused this dish to be a bit much. As I mentioned to him, it was the type that shouldn’t necessarily be a course by itself but more like side item on a main plate.
Overall, I was pleased with the experience, especially with my bill. The dishes at Thip Khao averaged around $13 so it was definitely affordable especially if dining with a group. The portions aren’t large for family style dining but proportioned enough for sharing between a few people. I’d definitely come back again and recommend it to others, but I will caution them that some of the dishes are on the sweeter side.