There are some things you can’t stop obsessing about. Like that time you saw your coworker on the red line at midnight, but didn’t know if it was weird to say hi so you awkwardly sat in your seat and hoped they wouldn’t notice. Or anytime you eat at Thip Khao, and that’s because this Lao spot in Columbia Heights serves some of the best food in DC.
By the time the doors open, the restaurant is already managing a line of people waiting eagerly to get in. Once in, you'll share the stripped-down pastel yellow dining room with locals, transplants, and a three-headed dragon painted in a mural on the far wall. The wooden tables are crammed so close to one another you might overhear your neighbor’s conversation—nice if you’re a nosy person or curious about what other people are ordering, not so nice if your date’s breaking up with you. But even then, you’ll find a reason to cheer up—like the sesame rice pudding you order for dessert to make the pain go away.
Dishes like the mee kathi, a noodle soup we can’t stop dreaming about, are incredibly well-crafted and packed with flavor. Other menu standouts include the crispy beef sesame jerky paired with a sour chili sauce we would gladly take home by the bucket, and the fried catfish marinated in a glorious mint and lemongrass glaze. Everything is so good that you’ll spend your whole meal plotting your next visit to try all the things you can’t get to this time.
That’s the thing with Thip Khao, the food here is just that good. It’s an instant serotonin fix and a refreshing reminder that good food speaks for itself, especially in an era where restaurants are preoccupied with aesthetics and decor. No matter the occasion—a casual first date, a hangout with co-workers, or the occasional uncomfortable conversation with friends—Thip Khao works. And that’s because regardless of what’s going on around you, everyone understands that the moment the food hits your table there’s not much else to focus on.
Siin Or Muu Haeng
This crispy sesame jerky appetizer is so good you’ll wish it was a main course. (Lucky for you, it can be. The khao niwer siin or muu haeng are the entree alternatives.) Sweet glazed beef is served alongside sticky rice, cucumber, and a sour chili sauce. The sweetness from the beef jerky, the tenderness of the rice, the lightness of the cucumber, and the savoriness of the chili all come together, like Beyoncé, Kelly, and Michelle, in perfect harmony.
Made with a rich red coconut curry, this noodle soup is then topped with peanuts, cabbage, bean sprout, mint and cilantro. It’s a dish that gives you texture and bold and fiery spices. When you eat this, you’ll forget about everything else you ordered.
Chuenh Paa Sa Moun Pai
The fried catfish is drenched in a lemongrass, mint, and fish sauce that collects at the bottom of the plate. Roll the fish around so that you’ve covered all four sides, and it’ll melt in your mouth. Then, take a forkful of sticky rice and sponge up all the leftover marinade settling at the bottom of the plate.
These build-it-yourself green lettuce wraps are one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes and for good reason. The crispy coconut rice atop peanuts, scallion, and cilantro add both texture and flavor in one delectable bite.
Khao Niew Met Nga
Because the food here is so filling, you’ll be tempted to pass on dessert. Don’t. Get this black sesame and coconut sticky rice served with a giant scoop of vanilla ice cream. It will lull you into an after-dinner nap, also known as sleep where you’ll snore gleefully.