Khao is a multifaceted word in the Thai/Laos culture. By definition, it really just means "food" in general. But its cultural use is extremely broad. It can be stretched to "Come eat," or "Let's eat!" It can even be used in a general coming together way, as well. This exploration of the culture of eating, and the culture of family, is what inspired chef Donny Sirisavath to lay his foundation on his latest (and most concrete) restaurant, Khao Noodle Shop.
Sirisavath has been a big part of the Dallas pop-up scene for some time now, not only paving the way for the come-and-go flavors of the city, but as a cultural ambassador of flavors. But running a restaurant is hard, and running a series of pop-ups is even harder.
“It's straining, you know? Cause you pop-up, and then you pop away,” Sirisavath laughs. After years of bouncing from kitchen to kitchen, Khao Noodle Shop is his first brick-and-mortar location, settling down at 4812 Bryan St.
The flavors of Khao Noodle Shop are not too different from the menus of Sirisavath's past pop-ups: lots of fish sauce, fresh noodles, funky flavors and fun atmospheres. But there is a difference underneath the surface. While the shop isn’t very big, only seating around 20-30, Sirisavath and his team are setting out not only to satisfy guests' appetites, but to continue their path of cultural culinary education.
“In a way we are changing the mindset of our customers with our portions.” Sirisavath states.
The menu at Khao Noodle Shop is varied, but inexpensive. Almost nothing on the menu is more than $7, and almost no single plate will leave guests full. It isn't meant to be the Olive Garden of Southeast Asian foods, it's meant to imitate the street foods of those cultures.
“Portions are small, and portions are made because in my travels, portions are small so you can have more than one bowl,” Sirisavath says.
There's tradition in stacking bowls, he says. By ordering multiple bowls, you stack them on top of one another as a sign of respect to the chefs in the kitchen. Much like slurping your noodles in Japan, it's a tradition that Sirisavath hopes to foster in his neighborhood, and in Dallas overall.
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Khao Noodle Shop is aiming to be the people they needed when they were younger.
“We met a lot of great people, and we are going to miss out on that, but we aren’t losing it," he says. "We are closed on Monday evenings, to catch up on prep, but also to let others use our kitchen.”
Sirisavath wants to create an environment where local chefs, musicians, artists and creatives can come together under the umbrella of delicious food.
Khao Noodle Shop, 4812 Bryan St. (Old East Dallas)