Good food sometimes involves a good hunt. To find good Laotian food in Fort Worth, for example, you’ll definitely need more than just mad Googling skills.
With any luck, your search will lead you to Boun Bistro in north Fort Worth. Under various names and owners, it has been open for five years but a new chef with an old-school approach makes it worth revisiting.
Since January, the Lao and Thai restaurant has been run by Fort Worth native Santy Vinaithong, who trained at the International Culinary Center in New York. While there, he worked in several Manhattan restaurants, BLT Steak and Thai Market among them.
Wanting to be closer to his family, he moved back to Fort Worth, landing a coveted executive-chef position at then-new Common Ground Grill & Tap in the TCU area. When his family took the reins of Boun Bistro, naturally, he inherited its kitchen.
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Aside from adding a handful of new dishes, Santy and his wife, K.K., made no drastic overhauls to the menu at this popular neighborhood spot. Presented without flash, as you might have them in their origin homelands, dishes are evenly divided between familiar Thai classics and more exotic Lao-inspired fare.
A staple of Lao cuisine, papaya salad ($7) was a spicy-sweet powerhouse. Crisp flesh of unripe papayas, finely julienned, lime juice, chunks of tomato, garlic and chiles made for bites of fire and snow, cold yet rippling with heat.
Large pieces of cabbage came clustered together on one side of the salad bowl, serving two purposes: As utensils to scoop up the contents and as tools to stave off the heat. This salad wasn’t murderously hot but it wasn’t for wimps, either. We were at spice level 2 and had to take water breaks between bites.
Far gentler on the tongue was a Laotian soup called kow piak sen ($9). Its simple, clear, chicken- and ginger-based broth, decorated only with cilantro, small pieces of white chicken and pork blood, threw the spotlight on the dish’s real star: slippery, thick rice noodles, made in-house.
Spend the extra buck for the side of fried dough, a good way to sponge up the broth and/or relive State Fair memories, as it tastes just like funnel cake.
They’re so inexpensive and bountiful, you could make a couple meals out of the small plates, which include crispy tofu ($4), beef jerky with a garlic marinade ($6) and wontons stuffed with shrimp mousse and kaffir lime curd ($7).
Particularly good is the Lao pork sausage ($7), a whole link cut into small chunks. Its flavor took a period of taste bud adjustment — what you see is regular sausage, what you taste is lemongrass, lime and garlic. Two bites in, we were hooked.
For dessert, set aside the 10 minutes it’ll take for the innocuously named honey toast ($7), which, in actuality, is quite bombastic, made up of thick, spongy brioche bread topped with honey, Oreo cookie crumbs, strawberry compote and vanilla ice cream. It’s the one thing on the menu that shows absolutely no restraint. Try as we might, three of us couldn’t finish it.
Located in a commercial strip mall, the restaurant sports a suburban facade that masks a warm, attractive atmosphere. Inside, it was all class, with tablecloths, dim lighting and attentive, top-notch service.
Boun Lao Thai Bistro
- 5111 N. Beach St., Fort Worth
- Hours: 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday