Nam kow. Photo courtesy of Viengthong.

Tucked in an unassuming strip mall near the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Way and Rainier Avenue in South Seattle is Viengthong Restaurant, a Lao-Thai restaurant which serves dishes from both cuisines. What first started as a dream for owners Ken and Thongsoun Khanphonphanh, became a fully realized reality in March 1992 when Viengthong opened. Its name, Viengthong, derives from two parts – Vieng, which is part of the name of the capital of Laos (Vientiane) and also where their family is from, and Thong, the beginning of both Thongsoun and her father’s name.

From a young age, Thongsoun loved to cook and also had an entrepreneurial mindset. When she was still living in Laos, she would sell her home-cooked dishes at the market and wanted to continue that once she arrived in the United States. She managed to see that desire materialize into what is now Viengthong Restaurant. Through the restaurant, she is able to continue her love of sharing Lao food to communities who haven’t been exposed to Lao food before.

For Khanphonphanh, marketing the restaurant as a Lao-Thai restaurant allows folks who are unfamiliar with Lao food to recognize something that they may be familiar with: Thai cuisine, which then opens the doors for people to try a similar, but new, cuisine. While Lao and Thai food have many similarities, one distinction that makes Lao cuisine its own is its use in fermented shrimp paste called “pa dek” in many of their dishes. Its cuisine is savory and emphasizes the use of fresh herbs and vegetables.

Sai oua. Photo courtesy of Viengthong.

When visiting Viengthong, some classic Lao dishes they suggest first-timers try include nam kao, a deep-fried, rice dish with coconut flakes, curry paste, cured pork, pork skin, green onions, cilantro and lemon juice, and served with a side of fresh vegetables to wrap. Sai oua, which is a classic Lao sausage stuffed with ground pork, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, and chili peppers, are made in-house. Other dishes include pa lard prig, which is a deep-fried whole tilapia topped with spices, soup naw mai, a type of stew made with shredded bamboo and yanang leaves, and kow poon nam gai, a red curry dish with vermicelli noodles, ground chicken, pork blood cubes and chicken feet and served with shredded cabbage, carrots and banana blossoms.

No Lao dish is complete without sticky rice, an important staple. Sticky rice is used to soak up the sauces from the dishes and is the real foundation of each meal. Also, they suggest trying the Lao papaya salad, which is made of shredded papaya, sliced tomatoes, lime, shrimp paste, and fermented fish sauce.

With Viengthong being one of the only Lao restaurants in Seattle, it has become a huge meeting place for the Lao community. They have felt very supported over the years of its doors being open, and hope to continue being a location for the Lao community to convene and gather. Its food has driven a younger generation of Lao folks to patron the restaurant, looking to satisfy their craving for Lao food. Their success is reflected in their returning customers, some being longtime supporters of the restaurant for years and years.

For Khanphonphanh, she hopes to continue sharing her love of Lao food through the restaurant, and that more people become aware of their cuisine. Eating at Viengthong is not just about indulging in Lao cuisine, but also being welcomed into Lao culture.

Viengthong Restaurant is located at 2820 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S., are open Tuesday-Saturday, 11 AM-8 PM, and Sunday, 1-8 PM.

Naw mai. Photo courtesy of Viengthong.

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