If you can’t decide between khao soi and a cheeseburger for your next meal, allow us to introduce you to Taurus Ox. This little corner spot on Capitol Hill serves fantastic Lao food, from pork belly stir-fries to rice noodles with peanut and egg. As an all-day, counter-service operation, prioritize this place for any excellent takeout lunch or casual dinner.
But more on the burger. Taurus Ox’s stands out from the pack. This complete stunner is topped with taro stem, cilantro, pickled onion, and cured pork jowl—it’s a drippy, tangy, beautiful mess, and the genius addition of sharp provolone cuts through the herbs and rendered fat flawlessly. The experience of eating this thing is a couple of the most wonderful, fleeting minutes that slip from our hands faster than the trickling beef juice. And we’ve never had another burger quite like it.
Even with a cheeseburger that f*cking stupendous, it still doesn’t overshadow the other Lao dishes here, like caramelized pork belly stew with rice and a crispy brussels sprout hash brown, a grilled garlic lemongrass sausage, and some soy-marinated coulotte jerky you could revolve your entire meal around. We have seen plenty of tables in here that did not have a burger on it, and we didn’t once scold a stranger for it. Yet. That’s how stellar the menu is across the board.
Get acquainted with two condiments you can and should add to your order. There’s the jaew tomato, which is a vegan tomato mixture made fragrant by cilantro, charred garlic, chili, and shallots. Then there’s the jaew bong, which is a fried pork skin-based paste made from galangal and lemongrass. They’re both very spicy and very delicious, but we like the pork one best. Put it on everything.
Lao Beef Jerky
Oberto better step aside. These marinated strips of dehydrated coulotte steak are what we truly want as a high-protein hiking snack. Despite having that familiar dried beef chew, these deep-fried meat sticks still are plenty juicy from the gingery soy mixture they are marinated in. Combined with a mouthful of sticky rice and jaew, it’s a home run.
These wok-seared rice noodles featuring cabbage, pickled purple daikon, pickled fresno chili, shredded eggs, and crushed peanuts taste like a not-as-sweetened pad Thai with some vinegar funk. You can choose between a few types of meats (as well as prawns and tofu), but we highly recommend going with chicken for its tasty marinade and the occasional appearance of cracklings.
Lao Pork Sausage
If your brain is running wild with summer BBQ ideas that involve Taurus Ox’s pork sausage and jaew bong dollops on a hot dog bun, same. These sliced, garlicky links have a nice snap, heat from the chilis, and an ideal quantity of lime leaf to cool everything down. With a pile of sticky rice, you have perfection.
Every time we eat Taurus Ox’s outstanding burger, we can’t help but use just as much profanity as we do when trying to find parking at University Village—only it’s the good kind of swearing this time. The double-stack has a lot going on, and that’s exactly why we love it. It features juicy smashed pork and beef patties, sliced taro stem, cilantro leaves, tangy pickled onion, a spicy jeaw bong mayo made from their fried pork skin-based condiment, and nutty provolone that melts between each layer. There’s a symbiotic harmony between herby freshness, all that pork fat, and a soft bun that stands up to all the toppings.
The Thom Khem is an excellent caramelized pork belly stew in a savory soy broth topped with a hard-cooked egg, a griddled hash brown made from brussels sprouts, and jasmine rice to soak up the magnificent sauce. Eating it feels like wearing an oversized hoodie on a cold day.
The khao soi at Taurus Ox is a clear broth topped with wide rice noodles, a ground pork sauce made with fermented soybeans, lime, cabbage, chilis, and garnished with fresh green stuff like mint and scallions, plus homemade pork rinds for crunch. While some of the other dishes here are better, the khao soi is sour, a little funky, and exactly what you want if you’re craving a lighter soup.