Best of 2001: Best Laotian

Asia Café
4710 Market Street, Chollas View

Crying Tigers is one very Laotian dish, and Asia Café is one very Laotian place. It's modest on the outside, in a mainly Lao strip mall. But inside, it hums with Laotian men, women, and kids and families eating and chatting away in Lao. The lower parts of the walls are painted a plum color. Scenes of temples, elephants, and the last king, Savang Vatthana, fill the white upper walls. Customers pick up Lao newspapers called Dao Larn Xang News. "News from the Land of a Million Elephants." Ask Robert Bavonkhoun, the owner, for Number 40 on the menu, "Crying Tiger." It is one of the national "larb" dishes, ground-beef salad mixed with lemon grass, lemon juice, and scallions, and served with vegetables. It is tart, fresh, and hot. Ask for some of that other national staple, sticky rice. Above all, watch for the little chilies. You might discover why it's called "Crying Tigers."

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