Laos Thai [Lowell, MA]

First, real quick: I used to read the Boston Chowhound board regularly when my then-girlfriend still lived in Boston a decade or so ago (she has since moved to Nashua and married me). I recognize a few names and undoubtedly owe you for some of the great recommendations I got from lurking.

Post-quarantine, we’ve been making more of an effort to poke around in neighboring and less-neighboring towns, which is how we found Laos Thai in Lowell—it’s on the same block as the Lowell location of Sophia’s, with that amazing Greek yogurt. Usually I go to Lowell for Cambodian food, and I think it’s safe to say that’s what most food writers associate the city with. Totally understandable, but I also wonder if it’s why Laos Thai seems to be under the radar, because the food is absolutely amazing. The first time we visited, it was literally days after Le Bernardin, and I don’t want to oversell it, but … I’d just been to Le Bernardin, a top two or three restaurant experience for me, and I was still raving about the nam khao here.

I get the nam khao every time we go, even though I really want to explore everything on the menu. I can’t help it. It’s one of the best restaurant dishes I’ve had, it’s so perfectly balanced: crispy rice, flecks of fermented pork, crunchy peanuts, lime juice, chiles, so many herbs (cilantro, mint, rau ram). I’ve tried to make this dish before. It was fine. But this … ahh, man. It’s become so difficult to go anywhere else in Lowell because it means not getting this. I’ve had it in the dead of winter, I’ve had it on hot summer days, it’s just always good.

The tapioca balls filled with radish and pork are nearly as good. Both the tapioca balls and the nam khao suffer from one problem: they don’t survive well as leftovers. The nam khao is okay, the rice just loses its crispiness. The tapioca balls become tough, though. You need to finish them at the table.

I used to live just outside Little Vietnam in New Orleans, so papaya salad has been a comfort food for me for almost 30 years. The thum lao is in that general family, but with noodles, snap peas, etc. It’s very funky with, I think, shrimp paste (maybe it’s crab). The only reason we don’t order it more often is there’s a lot of overlap with the flavors of the nam khao and the tapioca balls.

Caitlin is a big laksa fan, so the khao poon is right up her alley—it’s got a similar flavor profile to curry laksa. Lots of lime leaf and galangal.

Probably my second favorite dish so far: the bamboo soup or gaeng nor mai (at the bottom). Spicy, a little funky, a little thick like gumbo can be. The menu said okra, though I didn’t see any; maybe it’s ground up. Lots of mushrooms, delicious bamboo shoots.

Super friendly staff, proximity to Sophia’s—those are great things, but all I need is that nam khao. I will probably end up suggesting we go back this weekend now that I’ve brought it all back to mind.


Welcome to HO! This looks like a place we need to try.


Welcome @caractacus! We’ve been to Laos but for some reason, we don’t eat it here in the States, despite loving the food. We need to expand our horizons when eating out. Thank you for a great report…and photos. My mouth is watering (yes, I’m one of those people who craves a steaming hot bowl of soup no matter the weather).


Great, enticing post! Welcome @caractacus.

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Thanks for joining us here, and for your great report. I’ve got to get to Lowell. For Cambodian and Laos Thai.

What are your favorite Cambodian restaurants there, and your favorite dishes?

I’ve been to a couple of Southeast Asian/Cambodian markets in Revere and found it difficult to understand what was the fresh produce on sale, and it was usually wrapped in plastic and styrofoam and quite past its prime. Do you have recommendations for Cambodian/other Southeast Asian markets in Lowell? I’d so love to cook more from this region at home.

Your photos and report are very enticing, and what you say about what to finish there and what can be taken home is so helpful! Thanks again.

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wow welcome to HO. This makes a stop in Lowell mandatory next time we head to New England! We stopped there a couple of times for Cambodian back in Chowhound days, sat in a park with the memorial to Jack Kerouac, walked by the mills with our kids. Its wonderful to have great food to look forward to when travelling!


Lowell Folk Festival is renowned. In July.

And lots of great food from around the world.


I’ve yet to go to a Cambodian restaurant in Lowell that wasn’t great—though I shouldn’t jinx it. But the two I keep going back to are Red Rose and Simply Khmer.

Now that Simply Khmer has a Chelmsford location, that’s particularly convenient for us (in a shopping center with the well-reviewed-but-I-haven’t-tried-it-yet Sichuan Palace). The Chelmsford location has a smaller menu than the Lowell one. I don’t think they prepare anything differently, but things like pork intestine or sadao (or even prohok, which I would’ve thought was fairly user-friendly), you have to go to Lowell for those. What they have is great, though! We always get the chicken skins, though really they would be ideal for a group of four or more having beer. But they’re hard to resist even when there’s only two of you. Last time we went I got the lort cha, the short noodles, and I think it was the best thing we’ve had there.

Red Rose is in the old Cambodian neighborhood of Lowell, and it definitely looks like it’s been around a while, but the food is terrific. I saw someone, I think on Reddit, call it Americanized, and I don’t understand that at all – maybe they have some Americanized dishes that person ordered or something, but last time I went, I got … well, this is funny, this must be why I used these two dishes as examples of things you can’t get at SK Chelmsford: I got pig intestines and sadao.

The sadao is the top dish here. It’s a bitter green: for me, it’s comparable in bitterness to radicchio, definitely less bitter than bitter melon. The woman at the table next to us, part of the only other white couple on this particular day, was intrigued enough that I let her try some and she wound up ordering it for her lunch. Me, I had to break up the bitterness with the spicy pork intestine with pickled mustard green (bottom). Very heavy on the five spice, not in a bad way. Even my 81 year old mother liked this, at least until I told her what it was.

My mother got the lemongrass chicken – also a good choice! (My usual recommendation for skittish diners at Cambodian places is beef loc lac (not because it’s Americanized or inauthentic or anything like that, it’s just that the flavors of beef and lime are pretty familiar for Americans – to me, this makes more sense than ordering one of the token Chinese American dishes some places will offer), but she’d had it a few times by now, so it was time to branch out.) Really flavorful and satisfying.

As far as markets, I don’t have a go-to in Lowell anymore. Battambang was the big one for a long time but had a few years of decline and then closed maybe 10 years ago or so. As far as I know, nothing that expansive has opened to replace it – a place where you could get mangosteen, chicken ovaries with unlaid eggs, five different herbs they won’t have at Market Basket, and a bahn mi for the road. But New Asian Market is good, it’s just that since it’s a smaller market, there are days when they don’t have X, Y, or Z in stock, or when the most perishable of the produce is starting to look old.

I actually wind up getting most of my Asian groceries, or what I can’t get from Lanna in Nashua (Filipino-owned, pan-Asian), either from the delivery service Wee, which has finally started adding more Southeast Asian fresh ingredients lately, or from H-Mart in Burlington. Despite being Korean, sometimes they’ll have some Southeast Asian staples like galangal, lime leaves, lemongrass. They’re less likely to have Southeast Asian herbs other than culantro and cilantro, though – I’ve never found rau ram or rice paddy herb there, unfortunately.

(And going to H-Mart means an excuse to go to Tous les Jours, so … that always works out.)


Thanks so much for your very helpful and detailed reply! I will be checking this out. Didn’t know about Wee, either!

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I will eat almost anything but the last Laotian I tried (in Lowell, I believe) was like drinking fish sauce out of the bottle (unlike most Thai/Cambodian I have had where it is more of a flavor enhancer than the dominant flavor). I found mildly gross. Is that normal or maybe I just caught them on the wrong day? I think the papaya salad was the most fish-sauce-forward.

Laotian Cuisine uses Padaek which is almost always used in Papaya Salad and is much more “Funky”.
Some Thai and Vietnamese Dishes also use it. Vietnamese Pineapple-Anchovy Sauce/Mắm Nêm comes to mind.
It does take a little getting used to but much like Fish Sauce once you do it becomes crave worthy.


Thanks so much for this post! I love nam khao so when we found ourselves looking for short-notice dinner in Lowell yesterday we went to Laos Thai instead of our usuals (Simply Khmer and Tasty Dumplings). They were already quite busy and seating a large party so we opted for take-out. With your warnings in mind we made sure to try some sai koo (tapioca balls) in the car and enjoyed them a lot before driving home. Luckily the nam khao still had some crunch and the sai oua traveled just fine. That last was tasty but milder than expected. I’d also like a bit more kick in the nam khao but otherwise it was excellent and the greens and herbs took everything to the next level. Next time we’ll ask about spice levels.

In other Lowell news, we took a walk while waiting for our food and saw that the patio outside Tasty Dumplings is being landscaped and rebuilt. I asked about it and they said it’s part of a state-funded grant program their landlord agreed to. They’ll be able to put tables outside again once it’s finished but have no control over when that will be. The work in progress looks very promising, a big improvement over the former parking lot of the small market that used to be there.


Per their menu, Laos Thai’s papaya salad has shrimp paste as well as padaek / fish sauce so I expect it would be quite strong. I’ll have to give it a try.

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I always crumble the Fried Chilis into my Nam Khoa, usually more than enough to “brighten” the Dish :slightly_smiling_face:

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Thanks for the tip, I figured out (after I posted of course :slight_smile: ) that would work; the toasted chilis in this dish crumble much better than the ones I find in Sichuan cuisine. The nam khaos I’ve had before came “pre-heated”, as it were, often well beyond brightening, so it’s good to know folks can adjust the spice level to taste here.


I imagine that having a base level of Chili heat that’s not too much is smart. And in New England for sure.
Those super toasted Chilis :hot_pepper: taste great too and add a good bit of fire as well. Little extra Lime never hurt either.

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