Traditional Laotian cooking lands on West Passyunk Avenue with the new Laos Cafe, set in the former Grubhouse space at 2340 S. Hemberger Street, at the corner of W. Passyunk and Hemberger. The restaurant, across from 24-hour sandwich shop Philip’s Steaks, officially opens Saturday, July 28. Grubhouse will reopen in the upcoming Bourse Marketplace food hall in Old City.
This is the first restaurant for husband-and-wife team Kha Vorasarn and Asia Keomanivanh, who both moved from Laos to the U.S. when they were kids. Vorasarn, who’s taking the lead on the restaurant since Keomanivanh also works in a hospital, says Laos Cafe serves the authentic Laotian food they grew up eating.
“There’s a sign when you walk in that says, ‘welcome to our home,’ because this is how we eat at home. Ninety percent of the food is stuff we learned from our parents,” Vorasarn says. “It’s traditional.”
They wanted “Laos” in the name, he adds, because so many Laotian restaurants emphasize their Thai dishes: “We’re not hiding behind Thai food — Laotian people tend to hide under a banner of Thai food. I don’t want to bad mouth anyone. But our food is good, we’re not hiding it.”
Laos Cafe’s menu includes Lao staples like tum mak hoong, a papaya salad, nam khao, a crispy rice dish (wrap lettuce around the rice, put some mint or cilantro on it, maybe a bit of roasted chile, and eat it all together, Vorasarn explains), and laad na, a flat noodle in a thick gravy. There are also variations of the Laotian national dish laab, a meat salad that can be made with beef, pork, chicken, duck, or fish, tossed with herbs, mint, lime, and fish sauce.
The restaurant is on the small side, with nine tables, plus six stools at the bar.
A mural on an inside wall shows scenes from Laos, with straw and bamboo houses, farmers working in the fields, and dragon boats. “It represents our culture and our country,” Vorasarn says. “It’s our heart and soul.”