Laotian cuisine is about to have a moment. While it might not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering Southeast Asian eats, it's well on its way to being a thing.
In the past few years, a handful of notable Laotian spots like Washington's Thip Kao and San Francisco's Hawker Fare have surfaced, rendering those who step inside smitten with the savory and curious goodness Laotian food offers. It's an experience, folks.
Funky, fermented fish sauces, dried meats, banana flowers, bamboo shoots and fresh herbs are ever-present. Vegetarians, worry not -- there are heaps of fresh vegetables in most dishes, and sticky rice is a cornerstone. While Laotian restaurants aren't plentiful yet, Richmond scored one this summer with Temple, in the old Jerk Pit on Broad Street.
Inspired by their off-the-beaten-path travels, co-owners Brandon Pearson and Joe Kiatsuranon, of Mom's Siam, YaYa's Cookbook and My Noodle and Bar, wanted to serve down-home, authentic Laotian plates and noodle bowls alongside beverages that complement unusual flavors. They nailed it.
Temple's colorful exterior flanked by tropical greenery welcomes you and mirrors the vibrancy of a Laotian market. Stepping inside feels like slipping into the hidden spot that tourists don't know about. Aromas, which you can't quite put a finger on but can't wait to explore, are immediately consuming. The dimly lit space is quaint and rustic, yet intoxicating. Two glass chandeliers and gilded mirrors around the perimeter offer up just the right amount of elegance surrounding no more than seven chunky wooden tables. The ambiance is a reflection of the food: comforting, but with unexpected bursts of flavor.
Temple's entire menu is available for lunch and dinner. A word of advice, come hungry and prepare to leave with leftovers. The portions are mega, but our server reassured us that as things marinate over the hours the dish only gets better. For a satisfying midday meal, settle in with one of the house-made soups. Whether you're a fan of super spicy or sweet and tangy, there's likely a palate pleaser on the list. Served in charming, colorful bowls and chock full of ingredients, this is not your average bowl of soup. The guay teaw pet ($13.50) is a real standout, a tender, perfectly roasted leg of duck cooked in bone broth with a bevy of rice noodles and veggies including Thai celery, Chinese broccoli, bean sprouts, cilantro, garlic and a hint of warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The beauty of this cuisine is that it keeps you guessing.
If you're a carnivore and a bit of heat is your thing, the guay teaw rea ($13) delights. Soaked in a beef bone broth, thinly carved beef slices and supple meatballs are plentiful and offer a juggernaut of zing and zest in every savory bite. Yes, you are biting soup — it's that hearty.
For a lighter meal, check out the tum sao ($9), a crisp salad comprised of green papaya and shimmery rice tendrils, dried shrimp and cherry tomatoes garnished with roasted peanuts. It's the perfect balance between salty and sour, which pairs well with a fresh glass of lum yai, or longan fruit juice.
By dinnertime, Temple is even more alluring. Throwback tunes lay low and set a super chill scene, even with every table occupied. Cozy up on a stool at the intimate oak bar and indulge in one of several handcrafted cocktails. The Temple Sour ($10) is a twist on a whiskey lover's favorite, which incorporates house sangria to brighten the old favorite. Despite the tangle of two spirits, this one isn't a booze bomb and goes down even easier by way of an eco-friendly paper straw. The Muay Thai Punch ($10) on draft is a must for rum fans who can appreciate the blend of both golden and dark with pineapple and citrus juices and floral notes at the first sip.
If fruity concoctions aren't your thing, there's a handful of wined and whiskies, as well as local brews on draft and bottled selections from Thailand, China and Japan. There's food service at the bar too, so you're welcome to order a smattering of eats and share with your friends until close.
Highly recommended and shareable is sai krok ($8), a gingery Thai sausage that pops with flavorful juices, flanked by roasted peanuts. Pair it with khanom jeeb ($8.50), plump steamed crab and pork dumplings with shiitake mushrooms and water chestnuts.
While there's no dessert menu just yet (and we can only hope that's in the works), finishing the experience with Thai iced milk tea will probably satiate your sweet tooth and, just like everything else at Temple, draw you back for more. S
2713 W. Broad St.
Mondays - Thursdays 11 a.m. - 10 p.m.
Fridays - Saturdays 11 a.m. - 11 p.m.