The pandemic has taken some of the pop out of pop-up dining in Dallas, but that doesn’t mean it's gone extinct.
Donny Sirisavath of Khao Noodle Shop is just one of many chefs who is using this time as an opportunity to let loose and focus the creative culinary lens on takeout dining.
His Khao Len is his latest venture into the fun and funky side of Lao comfort food.
Like so many others, Khao Noodle Shop has had to change gears amid the pandemic.
“One thing about Khao Noodle Shop is that it was never made as a takeaway or to-go [restaurant], it was a dine-in space,” Sirisavath says. “I wanted a concept where it could be deliverable, so this was our idea behind it, at least until COVID-19 hit.”
The grim change did have a silver lining: With Sirisavath’s experience hosting and presenting pop-ups throughout the city before opening his Old East Dallas restaurant, this era has been a chance to showcase those skills once more. But this time, he could take things more slowly with Khao Len.
While Khao Noodle Shop certainly wasn’t a suit-and-tie kind of restaurant, it earned much respect nationally. Sirisavath wanted to find a way to keep that flavor, to preserve Khao’s essence of excellence, but present it in a way that wasn’t so resolute.
“Len means fun,” Sirisavath says. “It's super playful food, and we take seriousness in making the food, but not being too serious about it.”
The menu is simple at Khao Len: It's a rotation of items based on the creative efforts of Sirisavath and his staff.
The burger, reminiscent of what one might find at a no-frills joint, still has a lot going on under the hood. A house-made scallion-brioche bun holds a light curry- and lemongrass-spiced patty piled high with thinly sliced pork shoulder from Chubby Dog Farm, which is cured in koji to help tenderize and add a funky dynamic to the meat.
Alongside the burger, Khao Len is serving roti tacos with ever-changing fillings that embody the playful spirit of the establishment.
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“Everyone here has had a part in making the dishes,” Sirisavath says. “I had a vision, but it was all of us that brought it together, it's our collective soul for our cooking.”
Operating separately from Khao Noodle Shop, Khao Len is available every other Sunday by placing an online order through the Khao site for takeout or patio dining.
“We’ve been getting a lot of feedback,” Sirisavath says. “It was really kind of minimal at first. We just wanted to push out the product, but I just couldn’t keep it under wraps.”
With a torrent of Khao Noodle Shop fans eagerly keeping their eyes on Sirisavath’s every move, waiting to see what will show up next on the Sunday menu is part of the customer experience.