Some of the fire—in terms of both energy and the kitchen’s famously strong hand with the chilies—has left this strip-mall gem and is now concentrated at owner Seng Luangrath’s Columbia Heights restaurant, Thip Khao. But her Falls Church original is still worth your time. You’ll be given the once-secret Lao menu right away (don’t even look at the Thai lineup or the buffet), and it’s a veritable wonderland of flashbulb-bright flavors and textures. Cobble together a shareable feast, including a rich salad of ground duck with plenty of fresh mint and kaffir lime, steamed rice paste in banana leaves, and sweetly marinated pork-neck skewers. And if you do like a good scorching, make sure to say you want dishes cooked Lao hot, not Thai hot or medium.
Where you can get it: 6395 Seven Corners Center, Falls Church; 703-533-9480
Also good: Crispy-rice salad with ham; lettuce wraps with grilled tilapia, noodles, and galangal; steamed tilapia in curry paste; spicy cucumber salad.