When chef Seng Luangrath took over Bangkok Golden in 2010, she didn’t want to change the name of the familiar Thai restaurant in Seven Corners, Virginia. She began serving dishes from her native Laos as word-of-mouth specials that summer, and eventually gained a cult-like following of foodies and expats eager for her punchy, fiery flavors. Still, she kept Thai food on the menu and the capital city’s moniker.
“Lao restaurateurs were afraid to come out and say ‘I do Lao food’ because it’s sticky and funky,” says Luangrath. “It changed so much in the past couple of years.”
Luangrath has championed her “#LaoFoodMovement” through social media, pop-up dinners, and word-of-plate at Bangkok Golden and Thip Khao in DC, which serves only Lao fare. She says she finally feels comfortable owning that identity at the Virginia flagship and has changed the name to Padaek. The meaning: a fermented, unfiltered fish sauce that’s used widely in Lao cooking in everything from papaya salad to stews—the kind of flavor she worried customers would spurn years ago.
“Every Lao house must have that jar of padaek in the pantry,” says Luangrath.
Fans of the lunchtime Thai buffet—which she says is still very popular—shouldn’t worry. No major changes are being made to the menu or space. But Luangrath is planning a few more Lao specials using padaek, such as a thick curry with ground pork that’s eaten with fresh vegetables and sticky rice.
Padaek. 6395 Seven Corners, Falls Church.