Last week, Donny Sirisavath’s tiny, modern Laotian noodle shop, Khao Noodle, was named one of Eater’s list of 16 Best New Restaurants in America. Last night, they were recovering from an onslaught of diners, who have been flocking since the restaurant opened in December 2018.
In March, we published a profile I wrote on Sirisavath, when already he had mesmerized me with his layered dishes and his “impossible quest” for the perfect handmade rice noodle. I wrote about his dishes here, and Eater published a show-and-tell here. And now it’s official: we’re not the only ones who think the place where you sit communally and dine on food that’s full of flavor and heart is worthy of praise.
Hillary Dixler Canavan, Eater’s restaurant editor, wrote in her explanatory notes that what characterized this year’s crop was “the feeling that a restaurant, whether a noodle shop slinging Laotian specialties in East Dallas or a tasting menu championing the overlooked delights of the Oregon coast in Portland, was the right place at the right time”—essentially, “the only place to be that night.” That is precisely how I feel each time I eat at Khao.
It’s also a thing of the moment, this attention to the gestalt of a place. I see it in the Food & Wine list of Best New Chefs, which trumpets a new age of revolution, of inclusivity, of shaking loose the ties to old assumptions. The San Francisco Chronicle hired a new dining critic after 32 years. And she will be making a shift towards what some would consider more “woke” dining. There is new blood at the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times. Everyone has their eyes on food like the bowls coming out of Sirisavath’s kitchen.
Others on the Eater list include Atomix and Kopitiam in New York (the latter a Malaysian all-day café, cozy and idiosyncratic with its famous blue-tinted rice); Nightshade and a taco spot in Los Angeles; a place called the Jerk Shack in San Antonio; Indigo in Houston; spots in Portland and Chicago.
Watch the torching of the boat noodle dish’s beef bones, the basis of the long-simmered stock. In Eater’s round-up, we get animation. Whether charred, rice-pickled, or rice-cured, the food at Khao is something to talk about.