Crossing the border into Laos for the L.A. Times:
PHOTO by LUIS SINCO / L.A. TIMES
Thatched baskets of sticky rice arrive alongside tart pork sausages still sputtering from the pan. Papaya salad follows, the strands of green, unripened fruit stained a murky brown from fermented blue crab paste. At Tom Yum Koong in Westminster, among the offal-laden boat noodles and coconut-rich curries of Thailand are the flavors of Laos.
Traffic flows past Tom Yum Koong in a stream of steel and rubber, pouring off the nearby freeway into the concrete delta of strip malls and suburban churches. The restaurant is looked at and looked over. To some, it may look like just another neighborhood Thai restaurant: salads sluiced with lime juice and chiles, broad rice noodles snaking through puddles of soy sauce. But the kitchen maintains a distinct duality, capable in Thai and Laotian cooking.
Tom Yum Koong’s Laotian influence belongs to chef and owner Manivanh Chansmouth. She and her family purchased the restaurant two years ago, restyling it with warm chocolate walls and a constellation of paper lanterns. Owing to her Laotian heritage, Chansmouth retrofitted the menu by adding a concise selection of Laotian specialties and Isaan-style Thai favorites. The latter are Laos-influenced dishes from Isaan, Thailand’s northeastern region that sits just across the Mekong River from Laos.
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