The husband and wife team of Norraset (Nor) and Rujira Nareedokmai, owners of two beloved Squirrel Hill eateries Silk Elephant and Bangkok Balcony, are giving Pittsburghers their first taste of Laotian cuisine.
KIIN Lao & Thai Eatery, located in the former home of Bangkok Balcony, explores the connection between Lao and Isan-style (a region of Thailand bordering both Laos and Cambodia) cuisine. The “food border” between Laos and Isan is a blurred one; the duo has created an eatery where the overlap between Isan cuisine can be celebrated while showing respect to its Laotian roots.
The name is derived from this connection; “kiin” means “eat together” in both languages.
After returning from their most recent trip to Southeast Asia — where the duo connected with local Laotian chefs — they started searching for a U.S. advisor. They started working with Chef Seng Luangrath, a Washington, D.C.-based chef and founder of the nation’s Lao Food Movement, a project created to promote and preserve Lao cuisine and provide guidance for up-and-coming chefs and restaurateurs interested in Lao food.
“We are sure, in addition to its great new flavors, KIIN will serve up an appreciation for Lao food as it makes its entrance into the Pittsburgh market,” said Nor.
Many dishes will feature sticky rice, a staple in almost every Lao meal. For fans of Bangkok Balcony, KIIN promises that a few favorites will stick around on the new menu.
Inside, the restaurant features work by Lao-American graffiti artist Henley Bounkhong and photos of Laos captured by Nor Nareedokmai’s son.
Before opening, the couple placed a mural in their window featuring the letters of the restaurant's name filled in images significant to the business: There was a Laotian flag in the “K" to represent their roots, a rice field and rice stalk in the first “I,” and two hands putting together puzzle pieces in the second “I,” symbolizing the bringing together of cuisines. The “N" was a tribute to Squirrel Hill.
Nor Nareedokmai, a Squirrel Hill restauranter since he took over Bangkok Balcony in 2004, holds the neighborhood close to his heart.
“There’s no place like home: the uniqueness of the Pittsburgh restaurant market and its neighborhood feel is why we have had such longevity here,” he says on his Honeycomb Credit video — a resource where people can invest in and fund small businesses — campaign for KIIN. “By rethinking Bangkok Balcony and adding a lesser-known Southeast Asian cuisine, which is also loved by Thais, I feel like I am deepening my commitment to Pittsburgh.”
KIIN Lao & Thai eatery is now open seven days a week, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 a.m.- 11 p.m. on weekends.