In 2010, Seng Luangrath decided to open a restaurant, so she parked her car in front of a potential location in a Falls Church strip mall and monitored the flow of foot traffic.

“I worried I wouldn’t make it” if people didn’t pass by and come in, Luangrath says. Ultimately, she went with her gut and signed a lease.

That space became Bangkok Golden, the Thai and Laotian restaurant that in-the-know D.C. dwellers make pilgrimages to for dishes like nam khao (crispy rice salad) and sai oua (spicy pork sausage).

On Friday, riding high on Bangkok Golden’s success, Luangrath will officially open Thip Khao in Columbia Heights. The District offshoot of her original restaurant will focus exclusively on Laotian food.

“I didn’t sleep last night,” Luangrath said Tuesday morning as she pulled out her to-do list, scribbled on an unopened piece of junk mail.

Though Thai and Laotian cuisine share many of the same ingredients — lemon grass, shrimp paste, galanga root — the main distinction comes in the preparation. In Laos, Luangrath says, “the cooking methods are less advanced, so there’s a lot more stewing, steaming and grilling instead of wok cooking.”

Though otherwise nearly identical to Bangkok Golden’s Laotian offerings, Thip Khao’s menu includes the “Go to the Jungle” option for some dishes, geared toward adventurous eaters. “We may add innards or pork skin noodles, pickled fish,” Luangrath says.

Thip Khao’s dishes are undeniably Laotian, but it’s difficult to pinpoint the exact region they’re from. Following the Vietnam War, Luangrath and her family fled Vientiane (the capitol of Laos) and lived in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines.

“I would watch my neighbors cook, and I picked up recipes from the northern and southern regions of Laos,” she says.
As the eldest daughter, Luangrath grew up cooking for her family. It was then that she honed her skills and discovered her calling: “I knew right away this is what I wanted to do.”

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