Tacoma is getting its first Laotian restaurant
Tacoma’s first Laotian restaurant, Sweet Rice, is opening in Tacoma in October.
The restaurant will feature Laotian specialties, including sweet rice, the Lao staple for which the restaurant is named.
The Lao menu is served alongside a menu of Thai classics at Sweet Rice.
“We’re really excited to expand,” explained Robert Saysana, who runs Sweet Rice in Auburn with his family. He and his sister Elizabeth Hampton opened their first Sweet Rice restaurant in downtown Auburn almost two years ago. Robert’s wife Aileen Saysana and Robert and Elizabeth’s cousin, Diana SaysanaVongphet, also help run the restaurant. Their relatives own similar restaurants with the same name in Texas.
“My family down in Dallas, they’ve opened eight kinds of these restaurants. They’re doing really well, so we were like, we’ll join in on the fun and open ours, especially if we can teach others about our culture. Everybody knows Thai food, but few people here know Lao food,” said Saysana.
SWEET RICE IN TACOMA
Saysana and Hampton have been shopping for a Pierce County location for some time. When Takos Koreanos vacated its space at 8425 S. Hosmer St., Saysana and Hampton liked the high-traffic area and that the space was already built out, with few modifications necessary other than a slight decor shift.
The Saysanas are not new to Pierce County. Robert and Elizabeth grew up in Northeast Tacoma and are Stadium High School graduates. When it came time to expand, Tacoma felt a natural fit for a second location.
Sweet Rice’s name is a hat tip to the sweet sticky rice that is a staple of Laotian cuisine. “In Thailand, the Thai eat a lot of their dishes with jasmine rice, but with us in Laos, our primary rice is sweet rice, the sticky rice you mold in your hand,” said Saysana.
Texture is imperative in Laotian eating. “Like with a chicken wing. You eat a bite from the chicken wing and follow it up with the sweet rice,” said Saysana.
“We eat that with finger food, a lot of crispy fried, grilled foods that you can eat with the rice. We like sausages, heavenly beef, a kind of crispy beef jerky, curry and stuff like that.”
“We like dipping a lot. We like the sweet rice and we get a protein and then we dip it,” he said. They feature two Lao dipping sauces at Sweet Rice.
The first is jeow mak len. “That one is a roasted tomato dip. We roast tomatoes, garlic, green onions, then blend it, then add our hot peppers to it,” he said. The other Sweet Rice dipping sauce is jeow som. “It’s more a tangy-spicy dip,” he said.
“Most of our food consists of a lot of mixtures, a lot of herbs and a lot of flavors,” he said. Laotian food is a sibling cuisine to Thai cuisine in that Laotian dishes also pay homage to the flavor symphony that comprises the Southeast Asia palate: sweet, sour, spicy, salty, bitter.
He added, “A lot of our foods are street foods you can find in Laos and Thailand.”
NAVIGATING THE MENU AT SWEET RICE
“I would say our biggest hits are on the street eats sections. I like quick mini bites. That menu is where you get a lot of variety of the flavors,” Saysana said.
He suggested first-time visitors try the family’s nam khao, which is crispy fried rice and other ingredients assembled into lettuce wraps. “Our mixed plate is spicy sausage, heavenly beef (like beef jerky), and that’s a great sampling of our food.”
Eggs of all kinds are important in Laotian dining. “Eggs are huge in the Lao community. We learn how to make eggs 100 different ways. As a kid, we have our traditional seasoned omelet that we eat with sweet rice. Every Laotian kid grows up eating that. Me and my cousins growing up, grandma had it at the table, we’d flock like little birds trying to get a piece of sweet rice and an egg,” he said, laughing at the memory.
Young diners at his restaurant can get their own taste of that family dish. They can order khao jee, a sticky rice and egg omelet. “We take the sweet rice, the sweet rice is like a day old sweet rice and not as fresh anymore. We mold it into a little patty and you mix it with the egg. And some people call it Lao pizza. You mix the sweet rice in an egg batter and fry it, that’s another way to eat the egg. There’s a lot of frying in Lao cooking.”
Pad lao is a fried noodle and egg dish that Saysana is looking forward to introducing to Tacoma diners. “We’re going to introduce pad lao. it’s similar to phad thai, but it comes with a stir fried egg omelet.”
Curries, noodle and rice dishes pepper the menu at Sweet Rice. There’s also larb, grilled meats and other Thai and Laotian specialties to explore. For beverages, they’re working on their liquor license application right now.
THE OPENING OF SWEET RICE
They plan to paint and make minor changes to the interior of the Tacoma restaurant space that will be significantly larger than their Auburn restaurant.
Like their Auburn restaurant, Sweet Rice will be fast-casual with a come-as-you-are vibe. It’s nestled into a neighborhood big on casual dining.
As with their Auburn restaurant, they most likely will be open for to-go service and delivery. However, because of the size of the space, they are considering opening for dine-in service. I’ll keep you posted.
SWEET RICE TACOMA
Where: 8425 S. Hosmer St., Tacoma
Order takeout here: https://direct.chownow.com/order/18479/locations/26508
Sweet Rice Auburn: 4017 A St. S.E., Auburn; 253-333-6677
OPENING THIS WEEK
The area’s first Wienerschnitzel opens this week. Read about that here.