By Kevin Revolinski | Photography by TP Photography
When Christine Inthachith and her mother, Bounyong, arrived in the U.S. as refugees from Laos in 1980, they sought a way to connect and share their Laotian roots with their new home. Opening Lao Laan-Xang in 1989 was “a way for us to share our Lao culture and identity, values, traditions, and even our future,” says Christine. “My mom is a good cook — she knew how to make the traditional Lao dishes, and she taught us.”
The restaurant’s original location was on Odana Road, but in 1997, they moved to Williamson Street. A second Lao Laan- Xang location soon followed on Atwood Avenue in 2005.
Menu items include the Lao national specialty larp, which is a cold meat salad with fresh herbs, chilis, ground toasted rice and fish sauce. Fun fact: Christine says serving and eating larp is the traditional way to start the New Year — she notes it signifies prosperity and good fortune. Interestingly, each family puts their own spin on the dish.
“I learned [how] to make [larp] from my mother. Every family’s larp may be a little different,” says Christine.
The same goes for the green papaya salad.
“If you go to Laos, you can find papaya salad at each corner and each will be different — that’s the fun of it!” Sticky or glutinous rice, eaten with one’s fingers, is central to many of the entrées. The restaurant’s squash curry has become an iconic Madison dish.
Christine and her mom closed their Williamson Street location in 2022, but the Atwood Avenue restaurant is still kicking. Christine isn’t sure if her kids, Jahn and Emily, or her brother Sone’s children, Mani and Quin, will take over running the restaurant in the future.
“The kids all know how to cook; we will see what happens,” she says.