“We have [insert thing] here? In Oklahoma?!”
Yes. Yes, we do.
This isn’t 1890. Or even 1990. Oklahoma is connected to the world around us. We do not live in a vacuum.
(Try telling that to the weather sometimes, though, amirite?)
But it still seems to surprise people when I say, “Do you want to go to the Laotian restaurant?”
The replies are usually either:
1. WE HAVE A LAOTIAN RESTAURANT?
2. DID YOU SAY LOTION RESTAURANT?
No. I did not say “lotion restaurant.” Laotian. You know, from Laos?
We have lots of Thai restaurants and Vietnamese restaurants and Chinese restaurants — it’s not exactly mind-blowing that we have a restaurant featuring the cuisine of a country that borders Thailand, Vietnam and China.
And if you’re worried you won’t like Laotian food, let me assure you they share more than a border with those three countries. The food is not wildly dissimilar. If anything, I’d put it closer to Thai food than the other two.
“So why not just eat Thai food?”
I don’t know, man. Go eat Thai food. This isn’t a zero-sum game. You can eat Laotian food and Thai food and maybe you’ll find something new you like. That’s kind of the point of this website.
Amy Young, SixTwelve founder and generally delightful person, was my Patreon patron of the month and accompanied me to The Four J’s Diner for a one-on-one review.
(Want to help me review a meal, even though that means actually sitting near me while I eat? To each his own, I guess. Sign up for the I Ate Oklahoma Patreon here.)
When in doubt, get egg rolls.
Exploring a new menu can definitely be daunting, especially when it’s a cuisine with which you are not yet familiar. So it’s not only okay to turn to the familiar, it’s recommended. Put yourself on solid ground and order some egg rolls (four for $5).
Thai and Laotian egg rolls differ from Chinese-style egg rolls because of the wrapper. Chinese egg rolls usually have a thicker wrapper that bubbles and puffs up a little during frying. Thai and Laotian egg rolls have a thinner skin that remains mostly smooth.
The wrappers on these were lovely and flaky, like savory sheets of fried pastry wrapped around slivers of pork and julienned vegetables.
If you’re on a health kick, the spring rolls (aka summer rolls) are fresh veggies and shrimp wrapped in a sticky rice paper but not fried. At four for $7.50, it’s a pretty good deal.
Amy opted for the green chicken curry ($8.50), which is a favorite when she gets Thai food, and it was a possibly the perfect curry for Oklahoma summers.
The sauce was mild and green with a kick of sweet spice and tangy lime flavors draped over tender pieces of chicken. The crunchy vegetables were maybe a little too tough for Amy, who said she likes her bamboo a little more tender, but overall it was a win.
It turns out spice is a watchword for Amy, so I commend her bravery in trying the next couple of dishes, both of which are named a bit more aggressively than the norm.
Spicy garlic beef ($9.50) wasn’t actually all that hot. The spice was much more concentrated on flavor with the stir-fried garlic coming through sweet and strong. The beef and broccoli were perfectly tender, which is a tough needle to thread. That’s one reason I so respect restaurants that do a great beef and broccoli. Cooking them so they’re both just right is a skill.
The capper was a topping of crispy fried garlic on top. Truly a beautiful and beautifully executed dish.
“I love everything about it,” Amy said.
We ended with the dish I think has one of the top three names in the food kingdom: Weeping Tiger ($10.50).
If you’re wondering what the main difference between Laotian and Thai cuisines, it’s that Laos has more beef. Vietnam and Thailand have lengthy coastlines, but Laos is landlocked. So while many of the flavors are similar, they rely more on livestock than seafood.
Weeping Tiger is a steak dish with a twist of sweet, tart, spicy sauce. The steak marinated in a tangy chili sauce before it is cooked medium-rare, if you know what’s good for you. Sliced on a bias, it’s nice and tender with a flavor so good (or maybe surprising?) that it would make a tiger cry.
Seriously, tell me you don’t want to eat something called Weeping Tiger. I’m also game for a spicy peanut dish called Angry Elephant, if you know where I can find it.
I always worry that The Four J’s Diner gets overlooked because it’s down on SW 29th Street, among so many excellent taquerias. I’m never mad at Mexican food, y’all, but it’s worth skipping the barbacoa now and again to try this top-notch Laotian food.
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Egg rolls - Four for $5
Weeping tiger - $10.50
Green chicken curry - $8.50
Spicy garlic beef - $9.50