Eight years ago, chef Seng Luangrath was serving a secret Lao menu to friends-in-the-know out of Bangkok Golden, then a Thai restaurant, in Falls Church. Once a refugee who fled her native Laos for a camp in Thailand and then a permanent home in America, she was one of the first to introduce the pungent, bright, fiery flavors of her homeland to Washington. Now, two restaurants (Thip Khao, Sen Khao) and a #LaoFoodMovement non-profit organization later, Luangrath and her son, chef Bobby Pradachith, are ready to introduce DC to another side of Lao eating and drinking culture at “bar-forward” Hanumanh in Shaw.
The colorful 30-seat spot, now open, is the first stand-alone venture that the duo have created together. The fusion between tradition and current trends shows. The menu of 14-odd share plates—a fraction of the lineup at Thip Khao—is designed to be small and nimble enough to change with the seasons and the chefs’ whims. Head bartender Al Thompson, formerly of Barmini, is mixing up a menu of modern tiki cocktails to match the Southeast Asian flavors. On nice evenings the best place to sip will be the rear patio set with communal tables, which nearly doubles the size of the restaurant.
Luangrath says she often riffs on her parent’s and grandparent’s recipes, while Pradachith draws from his experiences growing up as a Lao-American, attending the Culinary Institute of America, and working as a line cook at Minibar (“I like to use tweezers, my mom doesn’t,” he says). The two approaches come together in plates such as naem khao kob, which tastes like a deconstructed version of Thip Khao’s famous crispy rice-and-herb salad, or khao jee, a take on a typical Lao-American breakfast of a hard-fried egg, toast, and soy-like Maggi sauce. Here it’s reimagined with Japanese milk bread that’s fried in chicken fat, charcoal grilled, and served with Maggi-cured egg yolk and crispy chicken skins. The smoky grill also turns out proteins like prawns with pineapple kosho (a citrusy sauce) or sour pork jowl with toasted rice and charred mushrooms.
“I like to play,” says Luangrath. “I’ve been cooking honest, straightforward Lao food for years.”
You won’t find a ton of crossover with the duo’s other restaurants, though warmly spiced red crab curry with herbs and lychees—a special at Thip Khao during our area’s crab season—makes an appearance.
The bar takes cues—and ingredients—from the kitchen for both cocktails and non-alcoholic teas that use flavorful scraps like Thai basil stems, carrot skins, and ginger peels. For boozy drinks, an early staff favorite is Thompson’s som nahm nah (rough translation: “You get what’s coming for you”) with gin, aquavit, ginger, cilantro, lemongrass-infused honey, and Thai chilies for retributive kick. If you’re admiring the monkey glassware, order a namesake Hanumanh—an ode to the Hindu monkey god—with banana-infused Lao whiskey, brown-butter condensed milk, and passionfruit.
Local Lao artist Henley Bounkhong painted images of Hanumanh on the restaurant’s walls. Luangrath grew up reading tales of the strong, curious, and resourceful monkey god.
“It has these characteristics that are quite similar to my mom’s as a woman chef trying to showcase a new cuisine, and her efforts to get where she is now,” says Pradachith. “Strength and perseverance.”
Hanumanh is open for first-come, first-serve drinks and/or food. Look for daytime hours to start in the future.
1604-a Seventh St., NW; no phone