On May first, Sang Dao opened in new digs on the corner of 54th and El Cajon Boulevard. A week later, I decided to check them out. It had been a while, but now since they've a bit (just a bit) closer, I really had no excuse.
Though located next to one of the "check cashing" places, the interior of the "new digs" is much different from the Sang Dao I knew on National Avenue! Bright and shiny like a new penny.....
And since my post back in 2005, I think I've learned a little bit about Lao cuisine.
The menu at this new location, looks the same, though I decided to stray a bit, and started asking about a few items. I think it's unfortunate that dishes like Or Lam, Mok Pa, and Kaeng Nor Mai Som aren't represented on the menu. In speaking to one of the young men, I was told that items such as those would not sell, though they make them for their own family meals at home. There are a few items that aren't on the menu, one which is the Raw Beef Larb:
Though you'll often hear folks say that "Issan Food is the same as Lao Food"(though often said by folks with a political agenda), and I do believe that in general, the differentiation is one of borders, not cuisine, I do note differences. And one of the dishes where this is reflected is in the Raw Beef Larb. There's an interesting Lao saying that you'll see everywhere on the Internet, something along the lines of "sweet makes you dizzy, but bitter makes you healthy". Funny thing was, I was told just about the same thing at my cooking class in Luang Prabang. In those restaurants where you find the cook/chef is from Issan (Northeast Thailand), such as Sab E Lee, you'll find the Raw Beef Larb to be more citrusy, the dish a bit lighter.Here at Sang Dao, it is full on Lao, except in heat, I think that even though I ordered this spicy, they took it easy on me. First, was the inclusion of offal, which added an earthiness to the dish. Second, was the addition of a good amount of beef bile, which adds, at least to me, a nice bitterness to the dish. Sab E Lee and Lotus of Siam, will add it to your dish, but not in large amounts.
As I was taught in Laos, no meal is complete without a soup, which is not to be treated as a soup in Western terms, that is, as a "starter", but to be eaten along with the meal. I really didn't feel like having the recommended Tom Kroung Nai, Intestine Soup, so I went with the other recommendation, the "Jungle Curry':
A curry without coconut milk is termed a "jungle curry", though this was more of a soup. It was pleasant, and I enjoyed the eggplant and other veggies in the soup. Not overly rich, this was a nice foil to the larb. It tasted like a nice "homestyle" soup. I brought the remainder home, and though She declared it to be weak in the heat department the Missus enjoyed it.
If you visit Sang Dao, remember to spend a minute or two at the take-out counter, you'll find a good selection of Jeow (Dips). I think one of these days, I pick up a variety, along with some sticky rice. On this day, I bought the Naem Khao from the take-out counter. This may look a bit different from say, the version at Asia Cafe.
Even though the location of Sang Dao has changed, the food has not, many of the dishes are distinctly country-homestyle. And in case you're not in the mood for Raw Beef Larb, or Intestine Soup, many of the Curries and other dishes are quite good. Ed from Yuma, Howie, and I had the pleasure of sharing a meal at Sang Dao with Candice Woo, some of which is included in Her article, so please check it out.
Sang Dao Restaurant
5421 El Cajon Blvd
San Diego, CA 92115