Chances are you live a stone’s throw away from a Thai restaurant in your neighborhood, and you’ve got a go-to local favorite for pad thai. These days I often find myself traveling north of Berkeley, where there’s quite a few wonderful Thai eateries clustered in Albany, El Cerrito and San Pablo locales.
I first became really curious about Lao food nearly two years ago, after a tasty meal at Champa Garden, the somewhat venerable Lao restaurant on 8th Avenue east of Lake Merritt in San Antonio–one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the Bay Area, home to close-knit populations of African-Americans, Latinos, and Asians in almost equal proportions. I tried to draw distinctions between its dominant flavors and those most prevalent in the more familiar cuisines of its Southeast Asian neighbors. Like Thai, Lao thrives on interplay between sour and spicy, crunchy and soft, and both cooked and raw ingredients. The effect however is different.