Zabb Elee - the best Laotian restaurant (Lowell, MA)

If you enjoy a huge umami punch, balanced by loads of fresh aromatics and herbs, and an array of complementary textures, you won’t find a better larb than what Zabb Elee serves. Wow!

Slightly less sour than other versions - with lime in the back rather than forefront, it’s the umami here that’s front and center. They use a heavy hand with padaek, the Lao fish sauce that’s more dank, viscous, and funky than it’s Thai counterpart. Also a dose of msg here to really take it over the top. Might be too much if not for the plethora or fresh mint and lemongrass than balance things out beautifully. Hand chopped poultry with a mix of white, dark, and organ meat. This is the best larb I’ve ever had. Maybe the best restaurant dish in the whole state.

The sausage at Zabb Elee is also perfect. As is everything really. The place is in a nondescript, tiny strip mall but is beautiful inside. Owners could not be friendlier. So much good about this restaurant. Probably my favorite restaurant in the country at the moment.


Intrigued. Did you do takeout or dine in? I ask because we’re still doing takeout these days. And what type of poultry are we talking for the larb—chicken meat + chicken liver? This sounds interesting.

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I ate in the restaurant - the only occupied table so distancing was easy. I did see them packing takeout orders as well, and the larb should hold up well.

The dish I ordered was chicken larb, and it had a mix of white meat, dark meat, and bits of other stuff - didn’t notice liver but it was possibly there in very small quantity. There were definitely gizzards. The offal was a relatively small component - mostly regular white and dark meat.

They do also make a duck larb and 2 kinds of beef larb - one with cooked and one with raw beef.

Here’s the view from my seat:



Thanks for this intel! I don’t remember when this place opened but the pandemic absolutely got in the way of trying places that are new to us. Hoping to get back in the swing this year.


We LOVE larb. Thanks for this report.


drools That looks so good, and I love a good acidic and savory larb too.

I wonder if this restaurant has any ties to a NYC Northern Thai restaurant of that same name, or if they are just using the name for inspiration purposes.

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There’s also a place in San Diego called Sab-E-Lee . Means “Delicious and Spicy,” I am told.Probably others around the country with various phonetic spellings as well. Not related, according to the folks here in Lowell.

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Some dishes are just meant to be eaten together. Like grilled beef tongue and tum mak toua - the Laotian smashed long beans with a boatload of chilies, shrimp paste, and all the rest of the good stuff. Zabb Elee, the best Laotian restaurant in America.


Nam Khao is one of the world’s great dishes and the version at Zabb Elee is very good. The rice croquette pieces remain crisp and crunchy throughout, and are the star of a dish with terrific textural contrast and a balance of sweet, hot, and herbaceous flavors.

Unlike Zabb Elee’s other dishes, this one will not rise to first place in the state. That title remains with Lanxang Star in Dracut, which is a national title contender for this particular dish. Lanxang Star has everything good about the Zabb Elee version, and adds a great sour kick to make those taste buds tingle even more. The Zabb Elee version skews a little sweeter than I’d like - without a pronounced lime presence, and with pork that’s less sour/ fermented than what’s in Lanxang Star’s Nam Khao. Still, no slouch at either spot. We are lucky to have them both!


I am really enjoying your reports about this restaurant!!


My celiac sister in Methuen has discovered that Lanxang Star in Dracut does most dishes gluten-free. Typically the small ethnic places we used to frequent cannot afford to have a separate fryer, separate cutting boards and stations, and gluten-free soy and fish sauces. She is delighted to be able to eat Thai again! We got take-out for a recent family event and everything was pretty good.