June 2019

Deep-fried quail, a favorite appetizer at Laos In Town, replicates Southeast Asian “street food.”

Our NoMA neighborhood continues to embrace the exotic cuisine of Asia. A notable newcomer is Laos In Town, which debuted last month at 250 K St. NE. Laos is operated by Thai partners Nick Ongsangkoon and executive chef Ben Tiatasin. Proprietor Ongsangkoon—who grew up in Bangkok– is also a partner at Soi 38 in Foggy Bottom.

We checked out Laos on a busy Friday evening. The place was jam packed by 8 p.m. and we were glad we had reservations. We considered joining diners at the appealing patio, but settled inside. There we were greeted by the bustling open kitchen. We also gawked at the exotic décor. Traditional fish traps dangle from the ceiling; walls are lined with birch trees, suggesting bamboo? We are familiar with Thai, Vietnamese and Cambodian cooking, but Laotian? We found the fare similar to those dishes, but Laotian is even more exotic.

Traditional fish traps dangle from the ceiling at NoMa’s Laos In Town.

Grilled pork shoulder is Tiatasin’s signature dish. The chef also makes a mean green papaya salad with the unripe fruit combined with fermented fish sauce, green beans and pork. Her kitchen showcases “street food” like spicy sausage and deep-fried quail escorted by tongue-tingling siracha sauce. Laos In Town’s highly touted crispy rice salad did not disappoint; the crunchy rendition was fire-cracker hot, studded with ginger, cilantro, peanuts and strips of fermented pork. Frosty Laotian beer quenched the fires somewhat.

Whole broiled branzino was nestled on a bed of lemon grass, basil and kaffir lime leaves. The fish (beware of bones!) arrived with steamed rice noodles and a trio of sauces: basil, garlic, tamarind. Also emerging from the kitchen: butterflied whole grilled chicken with sticky rice and chili sauce; grilled jumbo prawns, an assortment of soups and curries and stir-fried noodles tossed with chicken, scrambled eggs and sprouts.

Heading the dessert menu: khao naio mak muang (mango sticky rice); Sangkaga (Southeast Asian coconut custard); smoked banana with banana ice cream.

Dinner for two, with a drink apiece, came to about $60 before tip. Service was slow, but the place was slammed and our server did her best. Open daily, for lunch and dinner. Call 202-864-6620 or visit

Laos In Town’s crispy rice salad delivers flavor, a crunchy texture and firepower.

More Asian
Also in NoMa: Soon to join Laos In Town is Som Tam, a Thai-themed kiosk hawking spicy papaya salads and khao soi (rice noodles). You’ll find it at 111 K St. NE. Tucked into a converted ATM vestibule, Som Tam is the creation of Alex McCoy, known for internationally flavored burgers at Lucky Buns in Northwest,  and several pop-ups. Som Tam salads will rely mainly on fermented fish sauce, lime, and chiles. Dishes will also encompass rice noodles, beef, chicken and curries.

Not Asian in NoMa
Not all NoMa culinary newbies are Asian. Also coming soon is a spinoff of The Carving Room (based in Mount Vernon Triangle). Named CR NoMA, the offshoot will roost at 130 M St. NE. (The original Carving Room has been featured on the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.) CR NoMa’s menu will encompass house-cured pastrami and deep-fried Moroccan “cigars,” plus flatbreads baked in a domed, tile-lined oven. Fifteen beers will flow on tap, plus wine and cocktails.

Chicken to Scotch
In Bloomingdale, Crisp—known for Nashville hot wings and chicken sandwiches–has officially morphed into Hopscotch, bringing board games, $7 glasses of wine, and Italian-American entrees to the neighborhood. Located at 1837 First St. NW, the two-story venture is the creation of Matt Mazzocchi and his father, Tommy Mazzocchi. The bar’s new name stems from the childhood game — depicted across the black-and-white entrance — and “hops” for beer, and scotch” for liquor.

Italian Liqueurs
Speaking of cocktails: Last month, Ivy City welcomed hometown liqueur company Don Ciccio & Figli, where guests may sample Italian amaros, apertivos, and cordials. You’ll find the newcomer at 1907 Fairview Ave. NE, ensconced in an ocean blue tasting room called Bar Sirenis. The cocktail menu is divided between classics (including a negroni, Americano), and exotica incorporating other liqueurs like limoncello, cinque apperitivo, vodka, gin, and rye.

Bagels are Coming
Coming this fall to Mount Vernon Triangle: Pearl’s Bagels. Allee and Oliver Cox hope to open Pearl’s Bagels–named after their French bulldog–at 1017 Seventh Street NW.

The shop will sell bagels boiled in honey-sweetened water and fired in a gas-powered deck oven. Oliver Cox says traditional flavors will be the focus. He’s also buying smoked tuna spread from Nassau Street Seafood & Produce Co. in Princeton, New Jersey. Ivy City Smokehouse will supply salmon. To slather on the bagels: cream cheese blended with chives, scallions, veggies and strawberries. Breakfast sandwiches will be heaped with sausage and eggs. Pearl’s is looking into sourcing from Small World Coffee, which operates cafes in Princeton.

They’re Back
By now it’s old news that Taylor Gourmet has been reborn under new management. (Last fall, the hoagie chain shuttered all its shops–except for Reagan National Airport’s–and filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.) Now, Source Cuisine, headed by real estate developer Steve Kalifa, has acquired the company, partnering with LA-based Margie Stufano and local chef Nishan Amenu. The group is negotiating with the landlords of at least five previous Taylor Gourmet sites, which they hope to reopen by August.

Culinary Honors
Congratulations to restaurateur Virginia Rollins Ali, recipient of the 2019 Duke Zeibert Capital Achievement Award, presented by the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington (RAMW). Ali is the widow of Ben’s Chili Bowl founder Ben Ali, who died in 2009.

In 1958, the couple launched Ben’s Chili Bowl at 1213 U St. NW—then the heart of Washington’s Black Broadway.  Ben’s remains an institution, having survived the 1968 riots, gentrification and other hurdles. Ben’s has acquired spinoffs, including Ben’s Next Door, another Ben’s Chili Bowl at 1001 H St. NE (plus Ben’s Upstairs).

Named after legendary restaurateur Duke Zeibert, whose namesake restaurant fed Washington’s elite for 44 years, Ali’s award is among honors to be presented at the 37th Annual RAMMY Awards Gala June 30 at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

And….congrats to a pair of Washington chefs. Named Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation is Kwame Onwuachi, who helms the kitchen at the Wharf’s Kith and Kin, in the Intercontinental Hotel. Voted Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic is Tom Cunanan of Bad Saint, located in Columbia Heights.