There's a couple of menus available. The lunch menu has your standard red/green curries and stirfries, but also has a few goodies for us food nerds. The larger main menu is a humdinger. It's divided into sections such as 'Hardcore Lao!!!' which is full of fermented and raw fish/meat funkadelia. There's a section for fried and grilled meats, a section of kick-arse soups, and another for salads beyond the straight up tom sum. The 'Light Lao' section of the menu has a bunch of dishes we've never tried before which is like a green light to a bogan revving up his HSV ute.
Over several visits we've come to love the eclectic crowd at Nua Lao Thai, there's steady trickle of Thai and Lao folks mixed with the general flotsam and jetsam of the Chinatown/Central Station stretch of George Street. That wide open shopfront and the cheap meal deals scream "Welcome, come in!". And they do. Some days we find ourselves in the middle of a huge Lao family feast, or dining solo alongside homesick Thai expats, or trying not to listen to the dormitory gossip of gap year pommie backpackers, all called Claire and Katie. We're fascinated by those grey faced solo blokes with a plate of green curry and Greyhound bus ticket. Most alarmingly we sometimes see our future selves here, old farts necking $5 Singha beers pretending they're in Sukhamvit soi something or other twenty years ago. It's like a more egalitarian version of the hardcore Thai joints around Pitt and Campbell Streets. The crowd is half the fun.
After several visits we're still itching to get back to try more dishes, and we will.
Whole fish larb ($18.90). A whole fried fishy with the fillets sliced off, cut into strips and deep fried separately to the body. It's piled in a pretty, cheffy stack in a slight puddle of sweet lime sauce. It's decorated with fresh apple strips, peanuts, shallots and coriander. The fish is a fine specimen of fishus foodcourtus, those barramundi fellas used in all the Chinatown foodcourts. (There's great fancy Thai fried fish at Eating World at 'At Thai' and 'Tiger Cave' is good too).
#12 Crispy rice salad with fermented pork roll - $14.90. Kind of like a fried rice given a ballsy bass note with the fermented pork, just a little funky. The rice is like those wonderful crispy bits baked on to the pan, scraped off in crunch clumps. It's light and filling at the same time. Highly recommended.
From the bain-marie-of-love, $8.50 gets you two choices and rice. Who else but Alison would choose the offal amongst the other fine selections? A grand mix of liver bits and onion with a good chilli kick.
One of our favourite Southeast Asian comfort dishes is stewed pork with egg in a sweet soy sauce. It is served in a separate bowl to the rice plate. This allows a good amount of sauce to come with the dish and not drown out your rice in a sea of soy goodness.
From the lunch menu - slow cooked pork noodle soup - $10.90. Slices of roast pork meat, still pink on the inside, with bits of liver, twists of intestines and meatballs in a classic Thai style dark, sweet and meaty broth. A winner.
From the 'traditional Lao soup' section of the menu: #3 - bamboo shoot and 3 type mushroom soup - $11.90. A thin soup that tasted like green curry with a fermented funky bass note to it, maybe shrimp paste, and a good chili wallop (we ordered medium spicy as suggested). There's big chunks of bamboo shoots, mushrooms, frilly acacia leaves and a green soup base of yanang, a green leaf that is soaked and smashed to extract its flavour and colour. Here's a youtube recipe for something similar. Excuse us for learning out loud again...
From the 'Chef Special' bit of the menu #5 khao mok gai - sliced steamed chicken served on rice and sauce - $10.90. It's not your Singaporean style silky wet chicken rice but a good honest simple hunky chunky chook and plenty of it. The hearty serve of protein makes for a filling lunch.
Fermented sour pork rib - $13.90. From the 'Light Lao' section of the menu. Little nuggets of crunchy soft pork bone deep fried with a lightly sour tangy flavour to them. There's a little meat on them but it's all about the texture of chomping down on those soft bones. Mix it up with the peanuts, fresh cabbage and slivers of dry roasted chilli. This is a hands down pants up new favourite.
From the 'Nua Lao Thai Salads' section of the menu we try #10 Thai papaya salad served with condiments $17.90. A punchy payapa salad in the middle with just enough raw salty crab to give it a kick, not enough to scare us (we're on our raw crab L plates). Around the papaya salad is fried fish fillets, pork crackling, noodles, pickled veggies, a plain boiled egg, bamboo slices, bean sprouts, cabbage, and last but not least, some kind of Spam. This was easily big enough for the two of us for lunch, especially with some rice on the side. This dish is the opposite of an internet date, it looks much better in real life. Honest.
From the 'Hardcore Lao!!!' section of the menu we try Ceviche pork larb - $14.90. Raw minced pork made out-of-this-world with ground roasted rice and a hearty squeeze of lime, topped off with fresh and roasted chilis, red onion and fresh garlic. It comes with offal but you can request it guts-free if desired. This dish blew our little minds, it's like a tropical steak tartare.
Back to the 'Light Lao' section of the menu we order salty chicken - $13.90. Deep fried chicken wings, not especially salty but cooked dang fine with a crisp skin and moist flesh. The dunky sauces are excellent. We learn that some plain deep fried protein like this is an excellent counter to a spicy Thai salad.
Nua Lao Thai is at 768 George St, Haymarket, conveniently located between a massage parlour and KFC.