I sometimes suffer a rare form of real estate envy. I don’t covet someone’s pool or a home’s safe distance from high-speed traffic. But show me a place within a few steps of some awesome Southeast Asian cuisine, and the covetousness creeps in.
As we quickly dispatched with dishes of fragrant, steaming cuisine from Talad Thai and Lao Street Food, I marveled at the surrounding apartments on the section of East Sixth Street I call Condo Canyon. Imagine being able to walk in pajamas (my de facto work outfit of the last six months) to this year-old food truck located in a food truck court lined with picnic tables. I might never cook again.
Mary Hermadi, Thanaporn (Bee) Ruengphanit and Panyada (Arme) Chaikantha opened the food truck late last summer, serving the cuisine of Laos, from where Hermadi’s family emigrated in the 1980s, and Thailand, where both Bee and Arme were born.
The trio met while in college in Memphis and bonded over their families’ native cuisines, which share many similarities. Both Northern Thai and Laotian cuisine feature an abundance of herbs and aromatics, and they entrance lovers of umami, some of which derives from the use of padaek, a freshwater fish sauce sourced from the Mekong River that serves as a border between the two countries.
A dish of kua mee ($11) warms the palate, its pan-fried rice noodles and ground chicken wrapped with a blanket of umami woven with the richness of oyster sauce, fish sauce and two soy sauces and topped with springy egg and crunchy bean sprouts. While the food of Northern Thailand and Laos is generally not sweet, caramelized sugar in the kua mee gives the dish its brown hue and adds to its complex allure.
The noodle dish was a staple in the Hermadi household, as was sticky rice, which you can order from the Talad menu ($3) to scoop up pools of various sauces and mounds of protein.
If you’re looking for dishes enriched with coconut milk, you’d usually turn to Southern Thailand, but sweet and savory khao soi is one of Northern Thailand’s hallmark dishes. At Talad, where the cooking is done by Bee (a veteran of notable Thai restaurants in New York City) and Arme (a home cook), the sweet and aromatic mahogany broth is used as a dipping sauce for toasty pan-fried chicken dumplings ($6).
The word talad translates to "market" in both Lao and Thai, fitting for this operation that got its start at an Asian night market pop-up event, and one can definitely imagine encountering at a Laotian market the kind of plump links of fermented sai oui sausage breathy with lemongrass, chili and lime that you’ll find at Talad ($7). And the tawny and juicy fried chicken served with vibrant turmeric curry would make any marketgoer’s night.
The food at Talad is scratch-made, which you can tell by the activity in the trailer and the so-worth-it wait time. The partners, whose dreams of opening a brick-and-mortar have been placed on the back burner while their business endures the hit from the coronavirus pandemic, have only taken walk-up and call-in orders up until now, along with third-party delivery. But they plan to roll out online ordering with designated pickup times next week. Oh, to live in Condo Canyon.
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