Dining Out

The Lao’d-est Bar in Austin

By: Veronica Meewes

With Lao’d Bar, chef Bob Somsith brings the many flavors of Southeast Asia to East Austin

Bob Somsith Headshot for Lao'd Bar

At the end of April, Austin gained its very first Lao brick and mortar when chef Bob Somsith opened Lao’d Bar. Located next to Sign Bar, in a quickly developing pocket of far East Austin, Lao’d is tucked in a standalone space with garage doors opening onto a patio. The interior is splashed with vivid colors: tendrils of foliage over the bar, tropical oilcloth draped on each table, and bright blue and green stools and chairs throughout the dining room. Yellow shelves repurposed from the iconic Nau’s Enfield Drug display relics, from custom-made elephant lamps to vintage rice baskets. 

“Anyone that’s traveled to Laos, Thailand, Vietnam, or even Central or South America will definitely get the nostalgic vibes that we’re creating at Lao’d Bar,” says Somsith. “It’s inspired by all the travels to tropical zones that lend itself to open air, great vibrant food, and cold beers and cocktails.”

Despite its name, Lao’d is just as much restaurant as it is bar, but the offerings are casual and refreshingly well-priced, but still incredibly high-quality and well-executed. Somsith, the son of Lao refugees who immigrated in Dallas, has been honing his craft since he was a kid watching his mom in the kitchen. After moving to Austin in 2002 to study accounting at St. Edward’s University, he began cooking for friends and family. In 2014, he launched Sek-Sē•Füd•Kō (shortened to SXSE Food Co.), focusing on corporate caterings and Lao-Cajun crawfish boils.

“Lao people love to dip things in sauces, and crawfish is no different,” says Somsith. “We make jeow som—a chili lime fish sauce—as our dipping sauce and it’s almost a universal sauce for everything.”

After 12 years as an accountant, Somsith decided to focus on food full-time. In 2018, he opened his first food truck, Pha-ek, with the goal of introducing Lao-inspired dishes and flavors to the Austin market.

Lao'd Bar Lahb and Spring Rolls

“As a Lao kid growing up in America you really didn’t want to eat much different than your non-Lao friends,” Somsith remembers. “But as an adult, I just saw an opportunity to showcase the Lao flavors and techniques with not just American, but all sorts of cuisines like Mexican, Peruvian, and even Italian. Who doesn’t like a little bit of extra spice and umami, right?”

In 2019, the team competed in Trucklandia against 29 other food trucks and was voted Best Food Truck and crowned the 2019 champion. During the pandemic, Somsith changed his business model to focus on residential neighborhoods, roaming between Dripping Springs and Leander. From 2020 to 2024, he had residencies at 4th Tap Brewing Co-op, followed by Vacancy Brewing, where he developed constantly changing beer pairing menus to accompany the rotating taps.

But Somsith wanted a more permanent space (and more of it) to showcase his vibrant food in an environment inspired by the Lao night markets. At Lao’d Bar, you’ll find favorites from his SXSE food truck like ribeye skewers and pork bao buns plus his take on classics like chicken lahb—which is bright with makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, cilantro, and mint—and nam khao (crispy fried rice), made complex with red curry and cured beef nam. 

Lao'd Bar Frozen drinks Mekong Sunset and Frozen Thang

But there’s also plenty of new items packing big Lao flavor into modern American dishes, like the Lao’d Smashburger—an absolute umami bomb made from Lao pork sausage, rice fermented pickles, bacon, and a distinctive slaw made with jeow bong and galangal—and the Lao’d Dogg, a fried Lao sausage on a brioche bun topped with jeow bong aioli and punchy “Lao’er kraut.” Also not to be missed are his crispy chicken wings, which can come “naked” or tossed with spicy garlic, tropical sambal, or salty-sweet caramel fish sauce with crab fat.

Lao’d Bar’s bar program is just as colorful and fun. There’s the Frozen Thang, a refreshing cucumber margarita based on a drink Somsith enjoyed while vacationing in Tulum, and Liquid Jade, a quenching tonic made from coconut oil-washed vodka, barley shochu, Cointreau, coconut water, and pandan. The Muang Royale is a mango sticky rice-inspired negroni made with rice-washed whiskey, mango, and Carpano vermouth. And if you want to cool off like they do in Laos, order a Beerlao. The jasmine rice lager comes served over ice, the way any beer should be enjoyed in the summer heat of Texas.

A Lao’d Bar Recipe: Coconut Escolar Ceviche 

Coconut Escolar Ceviche 

recipe heading-plus-icon

yields

Makes 1 Serving

    for the pickled red onions
  • 1 large red onion
  • ½ cup vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1-2 bird’s eye chilis
  • for the ceviche
  • 5 large brown or white coconuts
  • 5 cups coconut water
  • 1 cup coconut milk
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 6 tablespoons Three Crabs fish sauce
  • 3 ounces ginger
  • 2 ounces galangal
  • 2 stalks lemongrass
  • 10 kaffir lime leaves
  • 6 Thai chiles
  • 6 tablespoons coconut vinegar
  • 1 bunch cilantro stems
  • 5-7 slices of escolar (cut sashimi-style, ⅛-inch thickness)
  • Microgreens, for garnish
  • Cilantro leaves, for garnish
  • Deep-fried dried bird’s eye chilis, for garnish (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon pickled red onions
  • ½ teaspoon fried garlic
  • Special Equipment: Heavy cleaver, fine mesh strainer
steps

Make the Pickled Red Onions

  1. Finely slice red onions and place in a plastic container with a lid.
  2. Add bird’s eye chilis, salt, sugar, vinegar, and 3 cups of boiling hot water.
  3. Mix well and let it cool down in the refrigerator.It’s ready to use when onions are bright translucent pink.

Make the Ceviche

  1. Crack coconuts by using the back spine of a meat cleaver (or something similar) over a large bowl to drain and save the coconut water. Reserve coconut halves for plating.
  2. Slice ginger and galangal. Smash lemongrass until fibers begin to appear and then cut into 3-inch pieces.
  3. Cut bird’s eye chilis in half, then wash cilantro and cut stems off.
  4. Add coconut water to stockpot along with the ginger, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, bird’s eye chilis, and cilantro stems. Bring to a rolling boil for 1 minute then reduce heat to low simmer for 15 minutes. 
  5. Rapid chill coconut broth by setting pot in ice bath cold or until it reaches 42 degrees. 
  6. Strain coconut broth into a large mixing bowl and discard the remaining contents. Add coconut milk, salt, fish sauce and coconut vinegar.
  7. Slice fish into sashimi-style cuts (1/8 inch thickness) and place in chilled coconut broth for 1 hour.

Plate the Ceviche

  1. Place fish in the coconut halves in a circular design with edges of fish slightly overlapping.
  2. Spoon in coconut broth, place pickled red onions in middle of fish, then sprinkle with fried garlic and sliced bird’s eye chili.
  3. Garnish with micro greens or cilantro leaves and place deep fried chilis near pickled onions if using.

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