Famous Lao papaya is easy enough to find. Just show up to Paloma Plaza and follow the unmistakable scent of durian. After you pick up one of those spiny oblong globes of fruit at the Queen Khô Bò market, just take a few paces forward and to the right onto the adjacent sidewalk running perpendicular to the one you’re walking on.

Formerly a food truck, Famous is the first Lao restaurant in San Jose (at least according to their website and an online search that only came up with a Thai-Lao restaurant in Fremont). It stands smack-dab in the middle of several other fast casual restaurants (meaning plastic cutlery and paper containers) in
the mall. The first thing you’ll notice when you walk in is how efficient their air conditioner is,
and how the walls behind the counter, covered in glossy white subway tiles, add a bright, breezy feeling to the space.

Many of the items that the owners served, and mastered, on their roving mobile menu now appear on the small but satisfying one that’s clearly displayed behind the register, complete with photos and descriptions. The first carryover dish from their previous incarnation to try is nam khao ($11.95). If you’ve ever bit into a mouthful of tahdig, or crispy Persian rice, that’s been smothered in a khoresh (stew), then you’ll recognize that this Lao version is distantly related to it. Unlike the way tahdig is served, the Lao rice is broken apart into delectable, bite-sized clusters. Famous Lao serves it with cured or fermented pieces of pork, which are light pink in color. Their chewiness is meant to complement the crunchy bits of rice. (Vegetarians should definitely ask the helpful guy taking orders if the dish can be served meatless). If you read the fine print, nam khao is traditionally eaten as a lettuce wrap. It’s even more delicious once you squeeze a wedge of lime over it and mix in the fresh cilantro and basil leaves.

I’m familiar with papaya salads from a variety of Cambodian, Vietnamese and Thai restaurants, but I was unprepared for the amount of fish sauce on the Lao style papaya salad ($9.95). The pungent dressing is Famous Lao’s own. For my taste, the dressing rendered the shredded fruit sodden and limp, overwhelming the crispness I’ve grown used to in similar salads that are more lightly dressed. If you want to try it before committing to the dish as an entrée, it’s also served as a side with the fried chicken wings ($12.95). And these are no ordinary wings: They were three of the largest I’ve ever been served; I wasn’t sure if they might have been from a giant, fattened chicken or a smaller goose. Not only were they golden brown and tender, but you also get to choose between steamed or sticky rice—but there’s no sign of a dipping sauce.

Because it was a hot afternoon, I didn’t try their soups, which include kao piek sen or chicken noodle ($11.95) and kao poon or curry noodle ($11.95). Instead, I opted for khaw mee, a stir fry noodle ($11.95). The Famous Lao Papaya food truck dropped their version of pad thai from this new menu. Their khaw mee, served with an army of fresh, translucent bean sprouts, is just as tasty, except that they offer no protein choices. The homemade rice noodles are coated in a sweet soy sauce and lovingly draped with a sliced omelet that’s cut into pretty yellow ribbons. Khaw mee was a perfect afternoon snack, but when pad thai is served with chicken, shrimp or tofu, it turns into a substantial meal. You can add Lao sausage to any dish for $3.50, but in the future it would be great to see other options. Maybe even a giant chicken or two.

Famous Lao Papaya
3005 Silver Creek Rd #164, San Jose