Have you ever had food that made you feel like you were hugged from within? If not, I suggest you head to Sao Lao Thai Café, 5013 N. Shepherd Dr.

Since opening last October, this place has been my go-to spot for a casual dinner with friends or trustworthy takeout. While the menu is smaller than most Thai restaurants, each offering is made with love that you will taste from the first bite.

An appetizer not to be missed is the Lao sausage with sticky rice and Lao tomato sauce, with just the right amount of spice and heat from the sauce to make your taste buds sing.

The Thai Red Curry with sliced ribeye steak, bell peppers, purple eggplant and basil is mild enough to please anyone scared off by traditional Thai heat and is my personal favorite.

When I asked chef and owner Souli Phaduangdet about her favorite item on the menu, she replied the Boat Noodle soup. She told me that it took her seven years to perfect this recipe and when she was finally happy with the result, she cried. That is evidence of how much dedication goes into the food. I have tried almost all the dishes on the menu but not this one. That will have to be corrected soon. 

Another soup worth mentioning is the Lao Chicken Noodle Soup, with handmade noodles in an eight-hour, slow-simmered chicken broth with chicken, quail eggs, cilantro and green onions. This is just what the doctor ordered if you are feeling under the weather.

A word of warning, though: Some Laotian food is known to be very spicy, so choose your spice level carefully. My suggestion is to start mild and add the flavorful chili sauce that is available.

On a recent trip I ordered the Drunken Noodles with stir fry wide noodles and ribeye with a medium spice level. Within two bites, my mouth was on fire and my nose was running. However, I could not stop eating these addictively spicy noodles and was thankful to have my trusty Thai iced tea as a beverage option.

Other beverages offered include the usual suspects of canned drinks and sugarcane juice. However, I usually take advantage of the BYOB option and pay the $5 corking fee, which is waived on Tuesday nights.

End your meal with the Coconut Mango Sticky Rice. It is an excellent way to cool off the remaining fire on your tongue and make everything right in the world.

Sao Lao Thai Café is a welcome addition to the growing number of locally owned restaurants in the neighborhood and is definitely worth a visit. Chef Souli is the heart and soul of this place and is making life better one bite at a time.

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