File this one under “worth a detour”: Vientian Cafe, a Laotian restaurant situated on a completely residential stretch of East Oakland, turns out to be one of best places around for down-home Lao food. The restaurant offers a broad range of Southeast Asian cuisines, but the key to a stellar meal is to ask for the separate “Lao Specialties” menu, where almost every item costs $5 or less, without a clunker among them. Highlights include the best nam kao (crispy rice ball salad) in town, the super-crunchy baked sai oo (fermented sausage), and the mok pa — chunks of catfish that are covered in aromatics, then steamed inside a banana leaf until the whole thing coheres together like a terrine: tender, succulent, and incredibly fragrant. Round out your meal with an order of sticky rice, the staple of Lao cuisine.
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