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TLO Restaurant Review: Ma Der Lao Kitchen

Louis and Patrick took a trip to one of OKC's hottest and most acclaimed new restaurants.

6:44 AM EDT on October 18, 2022

In sixth grade, I was in “love” with a girl named Lawan—not her real name, but very close

A Laotian girl, we took part in algebra classes and even went on a date for a screening of George Romero’s The Dark Half at Penn Square Mall. For a few weeks, we were inseparable. She introduced me to her family’s culture and food – and even taught me algebra formulas I still don't understand – but, as school-age love affairs do, we parted ways, never to be seen again.

Drying my wistful tears, I thought about her as I sat on the bench outside Ma Der Lao Kitchen, 1634 N. Blackwelder Avenue, last Friday in the Plaza District.

I was waiting for fashionably-late TLO head honcho Patrick to treat me to the acclaimed eatery that he, and the NY Times, has been raving about over the past month.

When Patrick arrived, towards the end of the lunch rush, we entered the long, narrow, and busy restaurant and waited for our table. After a few minutes, we were taken to a small two-top in the middle of all the action.

The Ma Der Lao menu features a variety of al a carte, intended to be shared items. Patrick almost immediately ordered the Original Papaya Salad ($11.00)and Sticky Rice ($4.00) to start. The salad was fresh and fishy with a spicy kick as its main capability, while the Sticky Rice was fine, but also a bit plain.

Upon further inspection, Patrick realized the intended to order the Crispy Rice Salad ($13.00) instead of the sticky stuff. He quickly rectified his mistake, and a few minutes later, I could see why.

Simply put – the dish was incredible. With seasoned rice and cured poke sausage – with a bit of mint, cilantro, Thai chili, peanuts, and some other ingredients – it was the beginning of a long, wonderful trip down a river of Lao flavors.

For the next phase of our edible vacation, Patrick ordered the team of the Lao Sausage ($8.00) and the Grilled Beef ($11.00). The sausage cast a beautiful plumpitude, one that exploded with rich flavor that couldn’t be contained. I took it in without fail; it was uncommonly good.

Similar but somehow different, the Grilled Beef was a lemongrass-marinated beef rib finger seared with toasted rice powder, pickled shallots, jaew som—a flavorful Laotian condiment—and a few herbs to taste. Served on a stick, it was a full-flavored taste, with a little sweet heat that aroused my tastebuds.

Finally, as we docked on the sunsetting horizon, the main menu closed us out with the Steamed Catfish ($12.00), giving us a true bon voyage. Packed like a meaty cake, this was catfish packed with bean thread noodles, assorted herbs, spices, and aromatics in a trapped banana leaf. As I engulfed my serving, it made my sinuses shutter.

I ended my Lao experience with a little bit of dessert—Coconut Soup ($4.00). I took a long drink of the white potion, giving a long overdue salute to Lawan’s memory, and then nibbled away at the green gelatin. With only a tattered algebra book and a forgettable movie, it made the recipes maintained by Ma Der Lao Kitchen so very memorable and definitely enjoyable.

Cómpralo ya!

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Follow Louis on Twitter at @LouisFowler and Instagram at @louisfowler78.

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