Change is in the air in downtown Irving. It’s plain to see, even on Main Street, a historic block with decades-old storefront awnings and a median lined with tall, leafy trees. Up the way, an old-fashioned soda fountain serves patty melts and tater tots, and a train track junction dramatically ends the traditional core of what has become a very untraditional suburb.
Irving is one of the most diverse areas in North Texas. A 2012 Trulia survey said that one of its ZIP codes was the most diverse in the country, and the latest Census Bureau survey found that more than 15 percent of respondents claimed a racial identity of either “two or more races” or “other.” To get a peek of that evolution in action, head down to Main Street, where today’s culinary attractions are diner-style cheeseburgers at Big State Fountain Grill and one of the heartiest bowls of soup in Texas, from Sapp Sapp Lao and Thai Kitchen.
It’s not the size that makes Sapp Sapp’s kowpiak “Xay-style” so generous. It’s a manageably sized bowl, the kind that won’t leave you groaning from overload. But this kowpiak has the works: beef, crispy-fried shards of pork belly, cubes of pork blood, four quail eggs and a showering of herbs ($10). The broth is nearly translucent but intensely savory, perfect for winter weather, and the pork belly gives this pho unexpected crunch. As for the cubes of blood, they retain heat extremely well — wait until the soup cools down — and although Sapp Sapp is happy to omit them for squeamish customers, there’s nothing bizarre in either the soft-but-firm texture or the savory taste.
The Xay in kowpiak Xay-style is Xay Senephoumy, owner of Sapp Sapp and part of a small family dynasty of Laotian restaurateurs in Irving. (His first name is pronounced “Cy”.) The family got its start down the road at Nalinh Market, a cult favorite that combines a small Asian grocery store with a kitchen serving Lao favorites such as papaya salad and spicy-sour cilantro-laced beef larb.
“It’s kind of a silly little story,” Senephoumy says. “Nalinh Market was a grocery store. A couple of my mom’s friends, who she used to hang out [with] when she first came to America, came to visit her and asked, hey, are you still a good cook? So she cooked for them when they came in, and our grocery store customers saw that and they wanted some food, too.
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Sapp Sapp Lao and Thai Kitchen, 120 S. Main St., Irving. 972-514-1811. Open 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Presented by Dallas Observer, January 23, 2018