The first thing you need to know about the newly opened La Kitchen in southeast Fresno is how to pronounce it.
Despite the sign with the capitalized letters, this restaurant has nothing to do with Los Angeles. It’s pronounced La Kitchen, as in tra la la.
La is one of the owners’ first names.
La Keomanivong worked for Pelco for more than 20 years. She always cooked on the side, bringing egg rolls to work events and selling party trays of food.
“Everybody (told) me to open a restaurant,” she said. “I never thought about it.”
But when she got laid off during the pandemic, she decided to give it a go, opening La Kitchen serving authentic Lao and Thai food.
The restaurant is in the former Taste Kitchen spot at the southeast corner of Kings Canyon Road and Fowler Avenue.
La Kitchen is a quick-service place with everything served in to-go containers whether you eat there or take it home.
Some grab-and-go dishes are premade early in the day, placed on foam trays and wrapped in plastic. Like the fried chicken paired with sticky rice.
Also on the menu: Eggrolls with shrimp or pork, and pho, the popular Vietnamese soup made with noodles and steak.
What’s popular so far?
The grab-and-go fried pork belly served with sticky rice for $8.99 is a big seller, according to manager Paul Tean. The Nam khao, an appetizer, that’s fried rice made with sour pickled pork is also popular.
Another option for these hot days? Larb.
It’s a meat dish that’s pronounced by drawing out the “ah” sound and all but dropping the letter B. Here, it’s a cold dish of ground meat with herbs and chiles, available with chicken, fish, pork, beef or shrimp for $7.99.
For those wanting something a little more Americanized, the restaurant also carries Chinese food options, like orange chicken and fried rice.
And there’s a drink you should try just so you can watch it be made: sugar cane juice.
Behind the counter, there’s a container of green sugar cane stalks. Tean demonstrates how he makes the drink by grabbing one and feeding it into a metal machine. It crushes the stalk, squeezing out all the moisture, which is then poured into a cup to drink.
“Nothing added,” he said. “The only thing I added is ice.”
La Kitchen is not the only restaurant in town serving quick-service Lao and Thai food. Fresno has several other businesses that do this, some of them paired with Asian markets, like AC Deli and Sweet Mango Mart & Deli.
Southeast Fresno restaurants
There’s something else that’s different about La Kitchen. If you linger a while and listen to the customers, plenty of them introduce themselves to the workers.
They gush about how happy they are to have such a restaurant in the neighborhood. They’ll tell the owners where they live, or point out they went to grade school with a worker’s kid.
There’s a sense of community here that you don’t find at every new restaurant.
And it may be because plenty of southeast Fresno residents will tell you they don’t have enough dining options in their part of town.
“Everybody on this side of town says we don’t have a lot of Asian restaurants around here,” Tean said.
Details: La Kitchen is at 6105 E. Kings Canyon Road. Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily. 559/515-6157.