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.
"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."
"There’s a certain saltiness, sourness, sweetness, and it can be spicy — all in one." — Curtis Rhodes, chef
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.
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; fooqsmiami.com. Tuesday through Friday noon to 8 p.m.