The Ever-Growing Bella Asian Food Dishes Up Laotian Staples

Bella Asian Food is one ghost kitchen to keep an eye on.

Bailey Trask
Chef Malaythong Vongdala with the spicy papaya salad and beef jerky with sticky rice.

In 1983, at the age of 5, Vail Rajamountry escaped war-torn Laos by crossing the Mekong River into Thailand. Three years later, he came to the United States as a refugee. And in 2018, as an American citizen, Rajamountry returned to his native country to marry Malaythong Vongdala, whom he had met through a godsister. Vongdala says she knew from the beginning that she and Rajamountry were meant to be.

The couple started Bella Asian Food (aka Bella Lao Food) last July by launching a food truck that they had saved up for by selling face masks on Etsy. They started the business, in part, after recognizing a need for Lao cuisine in Columbus. While many Thai restaurants in the U.S. are run by Laotians, their native cuisine often gets overshadowed, leaving few opportunities to eat authentic Lao dishes. Vongdala, who grew up as an orphan on the streets in Laos, has dreamed of owning a restaurant her entire life.

With Vongdala as chef and Rajamountry as manager, their food truck built a following around town by working at events. But their ambitions were bigger. This past February, the couple launched a delivery-only restaurant inside CloudKitchens, a home for ghost kitchens on Essex Avenue.

“In the beginning,” Rajamountry remembers, “we had nothing. We had to hustle. We’re here because we hustled.”

The restaurant, which has food available for pickup and through third-party delivery apps (which sometimes feature a more expansive menu than Bella’s website), specializes in spicy Lao street food. Thai chile peppers are ubiquitous throughout the menu. “Some people like the spice,” says Rajamountry. “And some people don’t. In Asia, we like spice. No spice? No good.”

Beef jerky with sticky rice from Bella Asian Food

The beef jerky and sticky rice combo ($11.99) is worth exploring and is one of the most popular items on the menu. The sweet-and-spicy snack is served alongside sticky rice—a staple of Lao cuisine—and consists of thinly sliced beef that’s marinated, dehydrated and flash-fried.

Meanwhile, the spicy chicken curry ($10.99) delivers make-your-nose-run heat. With a souplike consistency, the coconut-based red curry showcases boneless chicken, onion, basil and two types of peppers. When served atop the accompanying steamed rice, it makes for a hearty entrée.

The noodle seafood salad ($12.99) is one of the best dishes on the menu. This cold, ramen noodle-based salad can be ordered with four different spice levels, with “mild” still packing a punch. The salad brings Southeast Asian flavors to life with tail-on shrimp, imitation crab meat, tomatoes, cabbage and peanuts dressed in a combination of fish sauce and lime juice.

And the banh mi sandwich ($11.99) is a must-have and a good option for folks looking for something lower on the Scoville scale. Served on crusty, foot-long bread, the pickled carrots, cilantro, bright greens, jalapeños, pork and pâté deliver an exceptional sandwich.

More:Finding the Perfect Banh Mi in Columbus

Things are looking bright for Bella. If the ghost kitchen does well, Rajamountry and Vongdala plan on opening a drive-thru restaurant, with the goal of franchising one day. It just might be meant to be.

Bella Asian Food

1282 Essex Ave., Milo-Grogan, 380-888-9448

This story is from the May 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.