The duo behind Sabai Sabai open Toronto’s buzziest new restaurant

A new restaurant celebrating the food, drink and culture of Laos has moved in to fill the cuisine gap left behind when Sabai Sabai Kitchen and Bar closed months ago. Last Wednesday, the same owners opened Lao Lao Bar, and if the demand of the first week is anything to judge, it’s sure to be just as famed as their previous venture.

According to co-owners Seng Luong and Jason Jiang, the transition from the notable Thai hotspot was easy because of the customer base they’ve already developed. “We built a really good trust with our guests,” says Luong. “The timing was just perfect for us to jump on this project and show Toronto what Laos food is.”

Though they spent most of their lives raised in Canada, Jiang and Luong were both born in Laos. The restaurant was inspired by the traditional dishes the owners were raised on.

“We’ve always maintained very strong ties to our heritage, to our culture, and food specifically,” says Luong. “Having a deep connection to the food and the culture, we’ve always felt that Laos food was very underrepresented outside of Laos in general.”

The 110-seat restaurant includes a lounge with a “speakeasy vibe,” a 20-seat patio, private dining, and wheelchair access to the main upstairs dining area.

“The design of the restaurant was really inspired by our love for Luong Prabang,” Luong says, acknowledging the “beautiful architecture” and French influence of the heritage city. Walnut hues and an installation of hand-made jute lamps represent the owners’ travels and create an intimate sining atmosphere.

“When people come in, we want them to be transported not just by the food, but by the space itself,” says Luong. “It’s a fully immersive experience.

Even the family-style serving follows tradition. Guests are encouraged to share everything, putting the focus on connecting with others, say the co-owners. “Everything comes out pretty much all at once,” says Luong. “Everything’s set in the middle of the table, and you just go at it with your hands.”

With both small and large plate available, the menu offers unique dishes that are hard to find elsewhere in the city.

One specialty, the Nam Khao, is a crispy deep-fried coconut rice that’s tossed with cured pork, lime juice, fish sauce, and herbs. On the plant-based menu, a favourite is the tapioca dumpling—but with a twist! Lao Lao Bar has substituted the ground pork with shiitake mushrooms, eaten inside a lettuce wrap.

To pair with the dishes, Lao Lao Bar’s cocktails show off the tropical flavours of Laos, like the Lost in Lao (Pilla Select Aperitivo, vodka, orange curacao, calamansi and lemon juice.  A wine list “covers a little bit of everything from all over the world,” says Luong, who suggests he and his co-owner are both “very passionate” wine drinkers.

Lao Lao Bar is now open seven days a week at 5 St. Joseph St. near Yonge and Wellesley.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO