It isn't often that a fire can improve a restaurant significantly. That's no backhanded slam against the way that Lao's was before. It is, however, a way of saying that it's even better now than it was in the past. The new space is bright and clean, the decor is attractive, and the furniture is comfy as can be.
That last bit is particularly important. Glancing at the menu, you may expect to be sitting there for a while if you planned on reading it cover to cover. When you stop to think about the extremely high levels of love Lao's fans have for the place, it makes sense. With the vast variety of items it has on offer, how could it not have a far reaching pool of people who swear by it as one of the best places in Chinatown?
Foodies with a focus on eastern cuisine say Lao's is the real deal. This is Szechwan "soul food," marked by its intensely spicy flavors. That may make the curb seem a bit steep for getting into the eats here, but rest assured that if you're something of a spice wimp, you'll still be able to eat more mild than wild by letting the staff know about your preferences.
Lao's is casual, and not the ideal place for a cocktail, but beer and wine is served. Most menu items are under $15.
Average cost: $10-$20
Centerstage Reviewer: Bill Burman