SIOUX CITY | For the past 11 years, Phouthone Ngadouangrath has worked in five states, searching for the American Dream.

During every step of this journey, the Laos native has been making authentic Southeast Asian dishes like Kang Choo-Shee, Pad Thai and Glass Noodle Salad in various restaurant kitchens.

Earlier this fall, Ngadouangrath and his wife Viengkhone Seummalavanh purchased Diamond Thai Cuisine from its longtime owner Pete Utthachoo.

"Pete moved to California to take care of a family member," Ngadouangrath explained inside Diamond Thai's 515 W. Seventh St. dining room. "That's why he sold the business to us."

Ngadouangrath has a pretty impressive resume that began in Philadelphia, where he worked in a restaurant owned by his uncle.

"It was my uncle who really taught me how to cook," Ngadouangrath, who goes by the nickname "Lay," explained. "He shows me how things were done."

Eventually, he took his culinary skills to restaurants in Kansas, Louisiana, Illinois and, now, Iowa.

"So far, I like Iowa very much," Ngadouangrath said with a smile.

"I'm really not looking forward to the cold weather," wife and co-owner Seummalavanh, who goes by the nickname "Kee," admitted. "I understand Sioux City winters can be very cold."

However, authentic Southeast Asian cuisine has a reputation for being very hot.

This isn't necessarily true, according to Ngadouangrath.

"When people think of Thai food, they think of Thai curry," he said. "While curries are spicy, many Thai meals are flavorful instead of spicy."

Such flavorful appetizers can include a Golden Bag (or Ka Thong Tong), which is Diamond Thai's version of a deep-fried won ton-wrapped Crab Rangoon.

Other popular specialty items may include Tom Yum Krung -- a zesty and sour soup made with lemongrass, meat, basil, mushrooms, tomatoes and a ginger-like spice called galangal -- and a Thai meat salad known simply as Larb.

"Larb is made with a ground meat, tossed with vegetables, spices and herbs while being served with an order of sticky rice," Ngadouangrath said.

While Larb is as popular in Laos as it is Thailand, much of Diamond Thai's menu remains the way Utthachoo -- a Thai native -- left it.

Ngadouangrath said he'd like to add more distinctively Laotian dishes in the future.

"Since it uses more sugars and chili peppers, Thai food tend to be sweeter and spicier than Lao food," he reasoned. "Lao kitchens use more fish sauces, which makes our food saltier and full of good flavor."

Ngadouangrath is proud of his family, which includes a teenage stepson and a 6-year-old daughter. In addition, Seummalavanh is pregnant and will soon be giving birth.

So, Ngadouangrath has moved in order to take over a popular restaurant in a state he's never been before. Add to that, he and his wife will have an extra member of their family in a matter of months.

Isn't that a whole lot of changes all at the same time?

Not according to Ngadouangrath, who sees nothing but good times in his future.

"Owning a restaurant is hard work," he admitted. "Seeing the smiles on a customer's faces after he's eaten my food is very satisfying." 

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Food and Lifestyles reporter

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