New East Dallas restaurant serves Laotian soul food — plus a sweet family story

When Donny Sirisavath talks about his mom, his voice cracks. "My mom," he says. "She's my everything."

His words are laced with regret. His mom sold her Thai restaurant when Donny was in his 20s, and he remembers saying at the time, "Mom, I'm not ready." Donny became a Hewlett Packard field engineer instead of working for the family business.

Years later, after Donny got married, his mom Phaysane Sirisavath died of cancer. Donny doesn't want to talk about it. But he does want to talk about her.

"My mom's my inspiration," he says of the Laotian refugee who moved to Texas in the late 1980s. "She didn't leave me with a lot of money -- and she wasn't educated. But she left me with a passion for cooking." He let that passion simmer until the end of his mom's life, when she challenged him: "You have a gift and you should use it," he recalls her saying.

Seven years later, Donny will honor his mom with Khao Noodle Shop, opening Nov. 20 in East Dallas.

He can almost still hear her say "ma kin khao," which means "come eat" in Lao, before she'd place dishes from her native country on a table, each in little bowls. The sign of a successful dinner at his restaurant, Donny says, will be a stack of empty bowls in the middle of the table. They're like a trophy, signifying that customers liked the food.

Shrimp Balls will be on the menu at Khao Noodle Shop in Dallas.

Khao Noodle Shop is located catty-corner from Jimmy's Food Store, in a neighborhood with a high population of Southeast Asian immigrants. Sirisavath's wife Noy Srisouphan grew up across the street. Dallas County is home to about 51,000 Southeast Asian people, according to five-year estimates based on the 2010 Census.

The Dallas County Census numbers count about 2,500 people from Laos. Donny believes the late Anthony Bourdain helped make Laotian food better known to the masses when Parts Unknown and No Reservations turned a TV camera on southeast Asia.

The slight restaurant has room for just 25 guests inside, all of whom will be steered toward ordering the signature dish — boat noodles. The broth is cooked for at least 24 hours and finished with pork blood poured over house-made rice noodles. "It took me so long to perfect this," Donny says. "This is my ultimate dish."

The restaurant will sell about 20 small dishes, each inspired by Donny's mom. (But when the restaurant first opens, the menu will be limited.) At a pop-up dinner before Khao Noodle Shop opened, Donny served tapioca dumplings filled with pork and sweet pickled radish. He's also working on a khao soi recipe with fermented soybean paste and pork.

"This is paying tribute to her," Khao Noodle Shop owner Donny Sirisavath says of his restaurant, which was inspired by his mom. She died of cancer 7 years ago.

His mom's favorite dessert was a ginger soybean curd finished with sea salt and lime zest. Donny and his team have been experimenting with the light and foamy dessert, and others, by hosting dinners at bars like the People's Last Stand and Off the Record for six years.

Khao Noodle Shop already has a high-profile friend in Chef Seng Luangrath, a refugee from Laos who owns restaurants in Washington, D.C. She and Donny met online over a hashtag, #laofood, and she's since become a mentor. She reminds Donny of his mom.

He's prepared to educate Dallasites who haven't eaten Laotian food before, and he encourages diners to eat with their hands. He notes that his mom's style of cooking is "the soul food of southeast Asia."

Naturally, Donny's soul is in his food, too.

Khao Noodle Shop is located at 4812 Bryan St., Dallas.

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