There was a time when the Laotian-born owner of Bangkok Golden in Falls Church was so hesitant about serving anyone other than friends and family the food she grew up with, her off-the-menu list of dishes at the Thai restaurant was only printed in Laotian.
Now, it seems Washington can’t get enough of the fiery, funky, oh-so-fresh flavors that Seng Luangrath has helped make so popular. She changed the name of Bangkok Golden to Padaek (the Lao word for fish sauce) and extended her show to the District, opening Thip Khao in Columbia Heights five years ago. In December, Sen Khao, a noodle shop in Tysons Galleria, followed. And May saw the rollout of the 30-seat Hanumanh in Shaw, where Luangrath and her son, chef Bobby Pradachith, have created a watering hole with a small menu that’s meant to celebrate the drinking culture of Laos.
Happy Hour is referred to as Monkey Hour, Hindu and Buddhist monkey gods being the inspiration for the newcomer’s name. For two hours starting at 5 p.m., Wednesday through Monday, customers can enjoy $4 beer, $5 wines and $6 “snackies,” one of which ought to be meatballs shot through with lemongrass and agreeably chewy with sticky rice. The bite-size orbs are ringed by a clear sauce that pulses with lime, cilantro and fish sauce.
You can’t miss the no-reservations, no-phone storefront from the street. Intricate yellow writing against a red backdrop is reminiscent of a temple Pradachith and the Laotian American artist Henley Bounkhong visited on their maiden tour of Laos last year. More of Bounkhong’s handiwork is displayed inside, on a whimsical mural that depicts monkey characters gathering and cooking food. Little rice baskets dangle from bamboo poles near the ceiling. The baskets do double duty, serving both as decoration and distraction from overhead vents. Seating doubles when the umbrella-shaded rear patio is factored in. (If noise is an issue, head outside. The narrow dining room gets power mower-loud at times.)
Ask for the salad featuring banana blossoms, the fleshy, tear-shaped flowers plucked from the end of banana fruit clusters. The purple-skinned ingredient is lovely in combination with shaved coconut, crisp jicama, roasted peanuts and red finger chiles, the source of the salad’s pleasant heat. Hanumanh’s “blooming mushroom” is a nod to the chain restaurants, including Outback Steakhouse, Pradachith says his father tried to steer clear of in the chef’s youth. Enoki mushrooms bound with cornstarch batter emerge from the fryer as earthy, lacy-crisp clusters that go on to be seasoned with tamarind salt and set atop a creamy whip of fermented tofu and soybean paste. The finger food is fabulous, and just happens to be vegan.
A few dishes originated as specials at Thip Khao. Red crab curry is one of them, and an early hit at Hanumanh. Dressed with crisp fried banana blossoms and breezy with Thai basil, the bowl proves rich with crab — about four ounces of seafood, meaning every spoonful yields a little luxury.
Do son and mom cook alike? Pradachith is a trained chef. Luangrath is not, and she lets him know some of the best kitchen tools are the simplest. When she catches him fussing with a presentation, he says, she reminds him Lao food is rustic. “Fingers are your tweezers,” she likes to rib her co-chef.
1604 Seventh St. NW. No phone number. hanumanh.com. Entrees, $14 to $22.