Regional food specialties
- The food of Laos found in the Fox River Valley Area
The Lao are an ethnic group native to SE Asia belong to the Tai family. Many families have fled to America during unrest and if you look hard enough to can find some of these communities. Folks best bet for a taste of their food is to go where they came. Both the Laotian and Hmong people of Laos came to Illinois as refugees in the 1970's. While most of the Hmong went on to Wisconsin to be with relatives, the Laotian's settled in Rockford and Elgin. If you were just driving by the White Pearl Restaurant which takes up on old Taco Bell location next to a gas station at a busy intersection in Elgin you wouldn't look twice. But a closer look reveals they serve a few different styles of Asian cuisine including Laotian. Let's have a look.
I stopped thru on the rec of @shesimmers who praised their Lap Lao beef salad. I found it to be as good as the other off the radar Thai dishes she recommended in a Serious Eats piece she did. Being the National dish of Laos this was a good way to start exploring that portion of their menu, the "chef's specialties." The mint and perfectly cooked/chopped beef mixed with small bits of tripe was as good as advertised with a side of sticky rice.
Lap Lao Beef Salad
While the non-Laos portion of the menu is your typical generic dishes ala lo mein, fried rice etc they all seem to be done better than most. I took a return trip passing thru on the way back into the city recently and it was a winner as well. We got an order of egg rolls as well as some Laotian Sausage and a side of fried breadsticks (jap guay?) to start with.
Appetizers (Laotian Sausage, Egg Rolls, Fried Bread)
The deep fried sausage is fantastic, really, really good with lots of ginger kick and some crispiness that comes from the skin. Homemade egg rolls with pork and shrimp were fantastic as was the peanut dipping sauce they came with. The fried breadsticks tasted like fresh fried donuts so nothing not to like as far as those go. Some seem to like the pho. I'm not sure what ethnic background their house lo mein has. It comes with a lime/fish sauce and plenty of chopped peanuts and chicken and bbq pork meat served with an excellent bowl of chicken broth on the side. It pleased my palate.
House Lo Mein
Of course Elgin is a bit of a hike just for some lunch but there's also quite a few Southeast Asian grocery stores around town if you're ever in need of a special ingredient you may find it here. On Fridays they serve prepared to-go food at B&V Market which I popped into and found some Nam Khao sitting on the counter ready to eat. Fantastic and really nice people but the language gap didn't allow us to communicate all that well. I bought some pork and rice fermented sausages and a Malaysian curry mix from Lucky Market which was a little bit weird, by the looks of all the headshots of young Asian ladies on the wall it felt like wife's might be for sale too. I'm guessing there's some good home cooking to be had at some of the local gatherings and festivals which I saw one of the Laos churches vends at. As far as Rockford goes, I googled around and it looks like the few Laotian restaurants that were around may have closed. Further investigation to come.
Southeast Asian Groceries
Crispy Rice Salad from B&V Asian Market in South Elgin
White Pearl Restaurant
265 S McLean Blvd
Elgin, IL 60123
B & V Asian Market
347 N Mclean Blvd
South Elgin, IL 60177
Lucky Asian Market
692 Villa St
Elgin, IL 60120