*** Thai Garden Restaurant (actually a Lao Restaurant) is now at this location.
It seems that this location on 47th Street changes owners as often as I visit the area. Back in 2006, it was Vientiane Food to Go. In 2007, it became Mekong Village, with the small steam table and take out business, along with an attached market. The market has been abandoned (hopefully, only for now), and the little restaurant is now called Imperial Thai Cuisine. And....they serve everything in the book...Chinese, Thai, and Lao!
And if you haven't noticed...Pho....more about this later. As I parked my car, and walked through the door, and older gentleman greeted me with the all-to-familiar "sa-bai-dee...." And that's when I knew, the Owners were Lao. And a sign on the flourescent green painted wall, confirmed my suspicions.
There were construction paper signs with Chinese stir-fries and the like on the wall, a menu that featured various noodles soups, and a steam table. Talk about covering all your bases!
Because I responded to my greeting with a Sabaidee of my own, the very friendly, jolly, older woman started talking to me in Lao. At which time I shook my head vigorously, I said, "oh no, I only know Sa-bai-dee...." Which cracked the woman up. It turns out that the woman hails from outside Luang Prabang, and we started discussing, well, food of course. Jeow Bong, Khai Pene, Or Lam...and all sorts of stuff. But of course I was here to eat....and the woman insisted on making me, "big bowl of Lao noodle soup". How could I resist?
In my minds eye I could see a large bowl of Khao Pak Sen, the wonderful soup we had every morning in Luang Prabang hitting the table. But instead it was a humongous bowl of Lao "Foe", the style of Pho you'll see in Laos.
In Laos, Foe is pretty much a create your own bowl of soup kind of thing. This bowl had a large amount of meatballs, "squeeky", but not overly tough. The meat, as expected in the homestyle soup were the tough flank cuts....rather tough, but with good flavor. A big difference was the quantity of meat in the soup....it would have been enough for 3-4 bowls of soup in Luang Prabang. The noodles were routine rice noodles, and the broth was fairly straight ahead, and mildly beefy in flavor.
In Laos you'd have a plate of basil, cilantro, perhaps green beans, "kapi"(Shrimp Paste), etc, at your disposal....here it was some bean sprouts and lime. But luckily, the woman brought me, "something special" for my Foe.....a little dish full of her home made Jeow (dip).
This was a wonderful Jeow, sweet, tangy, sour, and mildly spicy. It added life to the somewhat mundane soup. I had no doubt that this was an off-menu "MP" (market price) item, it was quite filling, and came in at $8.
As I was paid, and was about to leave, I noticed that the Young Man who took care of the steam table items, brought out some fried chicken:
I did a double take....it looked like...could it be? "TFC" (Thai Fried Chicken???) I could not take my eyes off the pile of poultry. I asked the woman what this was, and of course she said ("LFC"), "Lao Fried Chicken". Four pieces $5. So, of course I bought some.
The woman who runs the place is quite talkative, jolly, and quite the saleswomen. I believe she found this little Asian guy who can only say hello and thank-you in Lao, but will talk your head off about Khai Pene, Jeow Bong, An Thao, and Or Lam, kind of strange and amusing. The gentleman, who I assume is her husband is more quiet and serious. The restaurant isn't the most sparkling clean place...though I'm sure when you shut off the lights it'll glow in the dark. The food was pretty much homecooking so I'm not quite sure if I'll be back....but the woman's last words to me, "next time maybe we have Or Lam", sure has me considering it.
Imperial Thai Cuisine
110 47th St
San Diego, CA 92102