After reading several mentions on Bites, I pointed the family car to the Haywood Lane exit off I-24. New and promising restaurants off Haywood Lane pop up periodically: 15 years ago, they tended to be Central American, 10 years ago, Korean. The small size of the restaurants there promises an individual owner with a passion for the food from home, and I've eaten some wonderful pupusas and japchae off exit 57B.
Even at nearly 2 p.m., the cafe, down an aisle and off to the side of the groceries, was busy with customers, mostly young, nearly all seemingly Lao, talking among tables in Eng-Laoish.
Fried ribs ($7 a plate) were sawed short for easy eating and deep-fried until crisp. I found them a bit bland and in need of marinade, sauce or both, but the crunchy exterior offered enough temptation for my dashing and accomplished date.
The Thai salad yum nua, also called "tiger tears," ($9) is an admirable heap of salad greens torn small, laced with cilantro and red onion, and generous with the portion of thin-sliced beef. Order your salad spicy unless you want it to arrive as mild as can be. Fix it, if need be, with toasted chili paste and jalapenos from the condiment carousel on the table.
The real treasure of the meal was tom ka kai, classic Thai chicken and coconut soup. King's version is pitch-perfect, chunky with beautifully cut, snow-white chicken breast, straw mushrooms, lengths of lemongrass, chunks of galangal for flavor, and enough expertly cut slivers of jalapeno to have you reaching for a hanky. A bowl (about $9) is a full meal, almost enough for two people.
It's gluttony to wish for more stomachs so we could have tried the curries and noodle dishes. We got a hint of how good they were though, as we finished the last of the ribs and soup, and boxed up the salad. The cook and server finally had a moment to sit and eat their own lunches, something special stir-fried in the kitchen, and it looked and smelled wonderful.