>> Royal King Elephant | Eat the World Los Angeles

Thursday 13 August 2020

Royal King Elephant

๐Ÿ‡ฑ๐Ÿ‡ฆ LAOS

EDITOR'S NOTE: An updated version of this article (01 February 2024) is available as part of the Historical section of our Substack page. Check that out here:
As with most Lao restaurants in the country, the cuisine of Thailand is also offered on the sign outside and throughout the menu. Here they don't separate it into sections and dishes unique to each country intermingle on each page. You probably will not be disappointed by the Thai selections, but this will be about Lao food, somewhat harder to find and what makes Royal King Elephant a special place.

Ever since their soft opening at the end of April 2016 and a few smatterings throughout online media, the restaurant has lived a relatively quiet life. The tiny little space in a strip mall serves up big flavors and with items like sticky rice containers and homemade fried bananas for sale amongst many other items, also acts as a communal hub for the Lao community.

Many photos of elephants adorn the walls, as well as other remembrances of Laos. Just like when you are in the small landlocked country, Thai music is playing over the speakers while a basketball game is on TV. The condiment selection on each table is really good, although most of the dishes come prepared just right.

One mistake made during this meal was asking for the tam mak hoong ($11.99, above, Lao-style) to be prepared less spicy than the other dishes. Lao cooking depends on heat and papaya salad is not a dish to eat mild, no matter what your limits. The salty crab and other Lao additions were all ready to be ignited together, but the lesson is learned.

After everything that was ordered came to the table, a plate of sai oua (above, on the house) arrived as a sampler, crispy and perfect sour Lao sausages full of aromatics and ground pork, and served with a chili dipping sauce.

A bowl of khao poon nam jeow ($12.99, below) is an exercise in how uncompromising the kitchen here can be. This is said in a flattering way, as many kitchens are eventually forced to either tone down their heat or take out the offal when they serve different crowds. The bowl served here is exactly what some wide-eyed tourist might see a Lao person diving into at a night market, before searching for something else. Go for it.

The menu does not try to hide this and lists the ingredients clearly: "Pork liver, intestine, tongue, and pork blood" amongst the greens. For a slightly less offal-centric bowl, try the khao poon nam gai, which replaces everything but the pork blood (which is necessary in any khao poon) with chicken.

Knowing the larb was going to be the spiciest part of the meal led to the mistake described above, but thankfully this dish was thoroughly enjoyable and sweat-inducing. Despite its absence in some versions here and in San Diego, tripe is an essential part of larb seen ($12.99, below), a beef larb also full of Thai chilies, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, onions, mint, cilantro, lemon juice and fish sauce, and the crunchiness of toasted bits of sticky rice.

The larb is another dish that proves the kitchen's insistence on bringing the most real foods to Garden Grove that Lao people miss from back home. They also serve a few types of pho, which certain Orange County reporters have warned against ordering saying they are un-Lao, but anyone who has visited the small country knows that it is full of Vietnamese people and pho is what you eat almost every morning.

They also serve khao piak, a chicken soup that Lao people also eat for breakfast, fresh clams and blood clams, and favorites like tom zap and nam kao tod. While the kitchen may not soar to heights where people describe it as the greatest in the entire world, there is still so much going right here.

GARDEN GROVE Orange County
 9924 Garden Grove Blvd.

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