Miami locals Sakhone Sayarath and her partner in business and life, Curtis Rhodes, launched Lil’ Laos as a pop-up at Midtown Garden Center in 2016 to satisfy Sayarath's craving for a taste of home. Following several subsequent pop-ups amid the pandemic last year, they found a permanent space in the Citadel food hall in Little River and expanded to full-time. Laotian cuisine shares many culinary similarities with Thailand, its neighbor to the west, but dishes at Lil’ Laos are channeled through Sayarath’s memory of her Laotian mother’s home cooking, then articulated by Rhodes’ hands in the kitchen and onto the plate. All so we may partake of brightly flavored gems like the lemongrass chicken (ping gai), dark meat chunks kissed with a coconut-curry sauce and served with sticky rice and a transcendent side of sweet and spicy papaya salad, transcendent in its own right thanks to the umami-rich, fish sauce-based dressing. And “Crispy Rice” (nam tod khao), a ball of marinated rice that’s deep-fried until golden, then crumbled and mixed with fresh herbs and topped with cubes of Spam-like Lao sausage. And beef jerky — one of Sayaranth’s favorite snacks — marinated overnight and deep-fried the way her father used to prepare it. Try the pork ribs and the chicken wings and you’ll never think the same way about barbecue again. Lil' Laos may well be the only restaurant in all of South Florida that specializes in authentic Laotian dishes. If that places it in a category of its own, so be it.
Editor’s note: Owing to a misunderstanding regarding supposed limitations on “Best of Miami” categories, this item was originally tailored to run as “Best Thai Restaurant” — a category in which it clearly does not belong. In order to right that wrong, the headline has been changed and the blurb rewritten.