Restaurant Profile: SAAP Laotian Restaurant

Pad lao with shrimp
Pad lao with shrimp
Chargrilled BBQ pork skewers
Chargrilled BBQ pork skewers
Lao herb sausage with Jeow Bong chili paste sauce
Lao herb sausage with Jeow Bong chili paste sauce
The popular chicken satay
The popular chicken satay
Rich dark chocolate mousse will not disappoint.
Rich dark chocolate mousse will not disappoint.
Baked kabocha squash dessert with ginger and coconut custard
Baked kabocha squash dessert with ginger and coconut custard
Pair your meal with a refreshing and inventive specialty cocktail.
Pair your meal with a refreshing and inventive specialty cocktail.

It didn’t take long for locals to wholeheartedly embrace SAAP, Chef Lon Bounsanga’s bustling new Laotian restaurant in downtown Cary. Perhaps to no one’s surprise, the readers of our sister publication, Cary Magazine, voted it Best New Restaurant in Western Wake for 2024.

“We’re so grateful and honored to be selected to receive this award,” said Bounsanga recently during an afternoon conversation at SAAP, which means “delicious” or “yummy” in Laotian.

Located on the ground floor of The Walker upscale apartment community near the Downtown Cary Park, the 70-seat eatery has quickly become a sought-out dining destination. Bounsanga, a native of Laos and the erstwhile executive chef at Raleigh’s popular Bida Manda and Brewery Bhavana, opened SAAP in November 2023.

For his latest venture, Bounsanga encouraged immediate family members to join him — from his wife and co-owner Annmarie Bounsanga to the couple’s four adult daughters, several of whom work as servers while one helps bartend and another handles general manager duties.

“The reason my family is here is because they want to be here,” the chef-owner says. “We are all family oriented, and we love being together.”

From left to right, the family includes Noël, a server; Lon; Annmarie; Miranda, a part-time server; Grace, a bartender; and Hera, the general manager.

Annmarie agrees but adds that her husband isn’t the only family member with extensive experience in professional food service.

“All the girls grew up in the restaurant industry, so it comes second nature to them,” she says. “I work in the medical field, so this is new to me.”

Inside SAAP, a modern 2,600-square-foot space features sage-colored walls, natural wooden tables, stylish light fixtures, and copious windows that span from floor to ceiling.

Chef Bounsanga indicates that Laotian cuisine is influenced by Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese, and Thai cultures.

“It’s all about using fresh ingredients and spices,” he explains. “Laotian food is very savory, and we’re serving a lot of street food like I grew up eating.”

Elements like fish sauce, Thai chilis, and galanga — a root similar to ginger — are primary components in many of the eatery’s dishes.

While SAAP sources its provisions from various Asian markets, the restaurant also will receive some donated produce from sustainability-minded Burkett Farm in Cary and will in turn give back to a local charity.

The menu at SAAP features an equally tempting assortment of small and large plates. Chef Bounsanga suggests ordering a variety of dishes to share with others at the table.

Popular lunchtime options include Green Papaya Salad with charred pork chop or the Crying Tiger version involving grilled beef steak. SAAP’s Banh Mi sandwich comes piled with pickled daikon and carrot, pate, cilantro, cucumbers, jalapenos, and either lemongrass chicken, grilled pork belly, or tofu.

When it comes to small plates, order the irresistible Ginger Chicken Satay served with sweet peanut chili sauce or the perfectly chargrilled BBQ Pork Skewers. Or, for a decidedly different umami experience, try the lemongrass-infused Lao Herb Sausage accompanied with an earthy Jeow Bong chili paste sauce and staple side item sticky rice.

Best-selling large plate selection Pad Lao features caramelized fried noodles brimming with shallots, bean sprouts, peanuts, cilantro, egg crepe, garlic, and soy sauce. Protein options for the dish include pork belly, tofu, chicken, and plump tiger shrimp.

Don’t ignore the onion-tinged Basil and Garlic Stir Fry with sweet Thai basil sauce and diner’s choice of shrimp, pork loin, tofu, or crispy chicken breast.

“This dish is my absolute favorite,” Philadelphia native Annmarie reveals.

The superb Green Curry Seafood entrée encompasses purple eggplant, sweet bell peppers, basil, and coconut along with scallops, shrimp, and mussels sourced from Locals Seafood.

When asked if off-menu specials are available, the chef quips, “Right now every dish is special, as we’re still trying to introduce our guests to Laotian cuisine.”

Save room for dessert. Choose between a decadent dark chocolate mousse, matcha cream puffs, or a coffee cream caramel concoction.

We highly recommend the distinctive baked kabocha squash with ginger- and coconut-imbued custard.

“This dessert is like an Asian version of pumpkin pie,” Chef Bounsanga says with a winsome smile. “Every part of it is edible, even the skin of the kabocha squash.”

Consider pairing your meal with a Southeast Asian-inspired specialty cocktail like the rum-based Ube Colada, the Mekong River Rush with habanero-pervaded mezcal, or The Mantra with vodka, lychee, elderberry liqueur, and lemon juice. Zero-proof offerings include Hibiscus Spritz, Sparkling Rose Tea, and Laos in Chai, which comprises chai with fresh pineapple, coconut cream, and lime.

White and red wine is offered by the glass or bottle. The restaurant’s bar also dispenses local craft beer on draft or from cans.

Lunch service runs from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. Dinner is dished up Tuesday through Sunday from 4:30–9:30 p.m. Reservations are strongly encouraged. Bar seating functions on a first-come, first-served basis.

saapcary.com

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *