Welcome to Inside the Dishes, where Eater takes an in-depth look at the dishes that are defining the city’s best new restaurants.
In the short six months since Khao Noodle Shop made its debut in East Dallas, the restaurant has already attracted thousands of adventurous diners in search of chef DOnny Sirisavath’s painstakingly created, perfectly shareable Laotian dishes.
The permanent realization of Sirisavath’s Southeast Asian pop-ups over the past few years, the chef has transformed the tiny kitchen (and equally diminutive dining room) into a Dallas dining destination. It’s a modest place full of ambition — here, find pungent, in-your-face flavors marked with bright notes of fresh greens and spices, all served by friendly faces in a casual dining room.
The dishes are small, just a few bites at most, but unforgettable despite the portions. The food here is served family-style, similar to how many people dine every day in Laos, and Sirisavath encourages groups to order a number of dishes to share, explore, and eat together. And because each plate is priced at around $6, it’s easy to order everything on the menu without totally breaking the bank.
While flavors may generally retain the same theme, and the smell of fish sauce and freshly squeezed lime juice may never stop wafting through the air, Khao Noodle Shop aims to keep diners coming back with a desire for something new. Before heading to this East Dallas hotspot, take a look at the shop’s most compelling dishes, but don’t expect for (all of) them to stick around forever.
The first, and arguably most iconic dish on Sirisavath’s menu at Khao, is a beautiful bowl of boat noodles. It’s a classic Laotian dish, built by layering intense flavors. First, Sirisavath sears and chars segmented beef bones, which scorches he remaining meat along the outside, and loosens up some of the marrow to be released into the rich broth later. Then, the chef roasts vegetables for the soup, and toasts a traditional mixture of star anise, cinnamon, black peppercorns, and clove just until the point of smoking before tossing the spices into the broth to mellow.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Sirisavath adds a hefty amount of pork blood to the broth while it simmers, which lends deep umami flavor and a rich texture. The blood is a crucial ingredient in boat noodles, and this dish just wouldn’t be the same without it. The broth is then strained, ladled into bowls, and topped with a twirl of rice noodles, fresh herbs, and a slice of tender brisket. The resulting dish is a complex swirl of flavors that’s endlessly satisfying.
For diners who are looking to split the difference between adventurous and familiar, start with the shrimp bites. Three crisp pockets of cured shrimp are fried to an earth-shattering crisp, then served with a traditional Laotian dipping sauce spiked with lime, fish sauce, chili, and cilantro. It’s a common condiment in Southeast Asia, and everyone’s got their own secret family recipe. At Khao, Sirisavath’s is sharp, sticky, and vibrant with a pleasant sodium punch that accentuates the mild shrimp filling of the bites.
Taking its name from a phrase that means “a bite of everything,” the moutsayhang at Khao Noodle Shop is a must. Two handheld bundles filled with char-grilled pork patty, omelette-style egg, fresh cucumber, and sticky rice arrive wrapped in rice paper atop a banana leaf. The pork patty is a homage to Laotian street food, which frequently features various cuts and preparations of meat char-grilled over high heat, and when paired with the delicate slice of egg, cunchy cucumber, and sticky rice, it’s both a textural and flavor triumph. Alongside the dish is the spicy, vibrant jeaw makhuea, a chili sauce that packs a serious punch.
Instead of the pork skin typically found in chicharrones, Sirisavath fries thin slices of tripe to an impeccable crunch for this fusion riff on the classic Latin American dish. Tripe’s honeycomb-like texture helps these chicharrones maintain their squiggly shape, making them easy to dip in the creamy sauce that they’re paired with.
Sukiyaki is a Japanese dish, but Sirisavath employs Laotian flavors to create his own downsized version of the typical hot pot. Fermented tofu is the star of the show of this dish, packed with a garlicky punch. A coconut cream sauce sits beneath glass noodles, and as is common with hot pot, the the dish is accompanied with a healthy dose of scallion, bean sprouts, cabbage, a rice cake, and a soft boiled quail egg.
Khao Soi (Wet)
The menu description — rice noodle, fermented pork — for the khao soi is really just too simple. Served dry or “wet” (read: an addition of a rich, flavorful broth), this is the kind of dish that takes a few bites to understand. The fermented pork is ground and crumbled on top, delivering a bit of saltiness and a buttery texture. Drops of chili oil, fresh mint, and mushroom add plenty of counterbalance to all that richness.