Lil’ Laos Pop-Up Gives Miami a Taste of Laotian Cuisine

Tantalizing raw materials at Lil' Laos.
Tantalizing raw materials at Lil' Laos. Photo by Francy Nunez
There are plenty of spots to snag Thai or Vietnamese food throughout South Florida.

But when it comes to Laotian cuisine, aside from a few scattered dishes on menus throughout the area there has been a noticeable void.

Enter the Lil' Laos pop-up at Fooq's in downtown Miami.

The brainchild of husband-and-wife culinary team Sakhone Sayarath and Curtis Rhodes (formerly of Café Roval), Lil' Laos officially took over Fooq's kitchen last month, serving up Laotian dishes for takeout and delivery. The pop-up is open Tuesday through Friday from noon to 8 p.m. and will run through the end of September.

What exactly is Laotian cuisine?

Well, for starters, Laos, a Southeast Asian country lodged amid Burma, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, is home to 7 million residents.

"There’s a certain saltiness, sourness, sweetness, and it can be spicy — all in one." — Curtis Rhodes, chef

tweet this
"It can certainly be considered a more rustic version of Thai food," Rhodes tells New Times. "There's a certain saltiness, sourness, sweetness, and it can be spicy — all in one. There's a whole other dimension we've brought to life here too."

Before landing at Fooq's, Lil' Laos popped up at Sixty10 in Little Haiti and at Wynwood craft beer hotspot Boxelder. Through all the iterations, Sayarath says, some local favorites have emerged.
click to enlarge
Lemongrass chicken, Lil' Laos style
Photo by Francy Nunez
"We do change the menu here and there, and we've certainly expanded the menu from our last location," Sayarath says. "I'd say some of our staples are the papaya salad, lemongrass chicken, and we even do our own beef jerky."

Other items regularly appearing on the menu include a whole fried fish with chilies and lemongrass herb sauce; a chicken red curry soup; and the cold larb salad with rice powder, dried chilies, fish sauce, and lime juice.

The stint at Fooq's comes at a wonderful time for the Lil' Laos team — and for Fooq's.

"It has been a challenging year for us at Fooq's due to COVID-19, but I am beyond excited to be able to have two people who are as genuine and talented as Sakhone and chef Curtis take over the kitchen and dish out their own version of authentic 'feel-good' food," says Fooq's owner and general manager David Foulquier. "While Fooq's as we know it had to temporarily pause, from the moment I tried Lil' Laos' food, I was inspired."

At the end of September, Lil' Laos might look to extend its Fooq's stint, or it might explore a new part of town. Rhodes says he'd like to see the concept have its own brick-and-mortar anchor someday.

In the meantime, Sayarath and Rhodes have developed a buzzworthy pop-up. They continue to find new ways to advocate for Laotian food and culture as well — Sayarath's cousin, chef Seng Luangrath of the Lao Food Movement, has been a primary driver in educating and connecting folks with the cuisine throughout the U.S.

"She is certainly spreading the word nationwide, and we'll keep spreading the word here," Sayarath says.

Lil' Laos. 1035 N. Miami Ave., Miami; 786-536-2749; Tuesday through Friday noon to 8 p.m.
KEEP MIAMI NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Miami New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Miami, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jesse Scott is a Fort Lauderdale-based contributor for Miami New Times covering culture, food, travel, and entertainment in South Florida and beyond. His work has appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Lonely Planet, National Geographic, and his hometown newspaper, the Free Lance-Star, among others.