Thip Khao in Columbia Heights may be a trek for students, but its Laotian cuisine is unlike anything you can find nearby.
Since its opening in 2014, Thip Khao, located at 3462 14th St. NW, has attracted an audience for its Southeastern Asian dishes that pack on the flavor and was nominated as a James Beard Award semifinalist this year.
The interior is simple aside from dragon decals and funky cube lights. Outside, a bright red sign boasts the restaurant’s name and large windows, but blends in with the other storefronts on 14th Street.
Despite the simple decor, the unique dishes and libations are anything but straightforward.
The restaurant offers a plethora of tasty cocktails like the green mango ($12) with chili-infused vodka, mango, ginger liqueur, lime and basil, and the tequila flamingo ($12) with tequila, grapefruit, Italian espresso liqueur and vermouth. If you’re not looking for liquor, stick to a Thai iced tea ($3) or coconut juice ($8) served in a fresh coconut.
The restaurant offers traditional Laotian dishes with a family-style menu consisting of vegetarian and vegan options along with dishes for both picky and adventurous eaters.
For small plates to start off your meal, order the wonton-shaped khaonom mun falang ($8) – yellow curry potato puffs served with sweet and sour sauce. Or if you want to try something that is likely new to you, order piing hua jai kai ($9), which is your choice of grilled and skewered chicken hearts with fermented shellfish and lime.
Lighter starters – like tam som ($11), a green papaya salad with fish sauce spiced with tamarind, chili, lime and peanuts or laab e’kae ($18), a salad served with minced alligator, green apple and toasted rice – also adorn the menu.
Thip Khao’s entrees – like the chuenh paa sa moun pai ($24), a crispy catfish served with a spicy fish sauce and garnished with toppings like mint, cashew and fried shallot – are hearty and packed with crafty flavor combinations.
But the dish that will make Laotian cuisine your new go-to is the chicken mee kathi ($15), a noodle dish that captivates with rich spices.
The dish begins with rice vermicelli – a long and thin rice noodle used in many Asian dishes – in a red coconut curry and is then topped with standard additions like chicken, egg and bean sprouts, and unusual options like banana blossom, an edible flower from a banana tree.
Just a glance at the ingredients may make the dish seem overwhelming, but each is carefully chosen and adds a different note to its overall taste.
The creamy coconut balances out the spice of the red curry and both soak into the tender chicken and vermicelli, promising a flavorful experience in each bite.
The peanut, cabbage and bean sprout, add crunch to the dish, while the lime boosts the dish’s flavor with some zest. Mixed together, the ingredients morph together to create a memorable dish packed with flavor, texture and a punch.
Next time you’re craving Thai food, skip a takeout order and head to Thip Khao to order the mee kathi, and try a taste of a new cuisine.