i have had quite a hankering for thai food these days, and decided to try a few of the restaurants in thai town, which is centered on hollywood boulevard in a part of hollywood actually known as little armenia (tell me again that los angeles isn't multi-culti, 'cause i ain't buying it). i've been reading the internets for thai restaurant recommendations and am a little bemused by people's descriptions of some of the restaurants i've already frequented; apparently as an island girl, i've got different standards of what is considered 'dirty' and 'a hole in the wall'. in fact, most of the asian restaurants i've been to with an 'A' health code rating have only been okay; so far the winners have all had a 'B' rating--i suppose in this case 'B' stands for "better." ha. i decided to stick to simon's low end theory restaurant guide as my primer; so far, i've not been disappointed whenever i've consulted it. here are the favourites so far: ord noodle, ruen pair, and yai.
i ended up at ord noodle, thinking i was going to find yai noodle, the sister restaurant of yai cuisine; unfortunately, it looks like the satellite restaurant has shut down, but i was not disappointed by the food at ord. it is a bright, bricky, somewhat arty looking space (i'm told a holdover from whatever resto was there previous to yai noodle--wasn't it a mongolian barbecue place?), with two rows of tables lined on either side of the narrow space. my dining companion and i both ordered bowls of the barbecued duck noodle soup, which could be ordered with a choice thin rice noodles or wider egg noodles; we both chose the egg noodles, which was a nice choice as although they were cooked just al dente, i think they managed to soak up enough of the rich, fatty broth, which was slightly sweet and quite spicy with red pepper flakes, onion and garlic. fresh green onion, cilantro and bean sprouts along with a generous portion of fatty but tender barbecued duck meat topped the steamy bowl of noodles and broth, which would have easily been a perfect sized meal for the both of us.
but no, we had to order more. we added the chicken larb and thai sausages to our lunch order because they were there and they were cheap (less than a fiver each). the larb was a combination of ground chicken meat, stir-fried with red onion, green onion, chili peppers, cilantro, rice powder and lime juice and served hot on a wedge of fresh cabbage. it was spicy, not greasy, but the mostly white chicken meat seemed somewhat overwhelmed by the spices and i couldn't detect the rice powder. it has been awhile since i've had larb as i don't find it particularly exciting, so i'm unsure as to how it is supposed to be served, and are you in fact supposed to taste or feel the texture of the rice powder anyway? no matter, as i found it to be tastier than i had recalled, a sort of cooked meat ceviche. i was far more interested in the order of grilled thai sausages, which were served with raw peanuts, whole cloves of garlic, chopped cilantro, and whole chili peppers. i was unsure as to what to do with all the raw condiments, so i just sort of chopped up the larger bits and mixed them all together with some vinegar to make a rather tasty if chunky sauce to dip the sausages in. the sausages themselves seemed to be rich with pork fat and pork blood or liver, but managed not to be completely overtaken with that...awful offal overtone that some intensively intestinal (intestinally intensive?) foodstuffs can have. just the right amount of richness tempered by the charred casing and herby vinegar.
ruen pair is in the same strip mall complex as the old palm thai location (currently undergoing renovation), and the jonathan gold recommended red corner asia, but of the three, i think i'd pick ruen pair as the winner. it's small, cramped and dark, but strangely cheery, maybe because it's almost always packed, and people seem to really like what they are eating. the menu is rather extensive, but the specialty seems to be a green papaya salad with raw blue crab, which everyone ordered. except us. i was with "safe" eaters, so i was restricted from ordering anything undead and too odd. still, we managed to pick out a good array of dishes from the extensive menu.
we started with the spicy combo salad, which was kind of like a crazy antipasto platter filled with sliced salted eggs, preserved ducks' eggs, sliced chinese sausages and preserved/pickled vegetables then drizzled with an onion/chili pepper/garlic-laced vinegar and tossed with green onion and slivers of fresh ginger. tangy, spicy, sharp and mellow all at once. we also had the deep-fried shrimp patties (shrimp and fish meat minced with green onion and bound with corn starch) which were bursting with chunks of seafood but not fishy, and springy in texture, without being tough.
the starters were quickly, quickly followed by kai kua, flat rice noodles stir fried with chicken, bean sprouts and egg, spicy steamed catfish in a red curry sauce with fried basil leaves (not pictured), and a very simply sauteed kang kong (water spinach/convolvus), served with a chili vinegar sauce. all three of these were only slightly greasy, but very fresh, quite generous in portions, and very clean in taste.
i think my hands down favourite of the lot--simon's and kirk from mmm-yoso's favourite, too--is yai, which is in a poky little strip mall near the 101 freeway junction. i've read a lot about how absolutely dire the interior is, but i didn't find it dirty or off-putting at all. what it lacks in interior design it wholly makes up for in easily wipeable white laminate, and the bright fluorescent lighting only highlights how very good the food looks as well as tastes (my lovely dining companion begs to differ with me on this point, i can only imagine how horrified he'd be over the interior of my favourite thai restaurants on guam).
we started with a rather refreshing bamboo shoot salad made up of shredded bamboo shoots marinated in a lime, basil, onion, chili dressing. it was clean, crisp, somewhat bracing, and wholly addictive. the fresh lime and chili perked us up on this hot, muggy day, and also awoke our taste buds. i picked a dish off the specials board called gai sapp nok, which turned out to be ground chicken stir-fried in a red curry sauce with basil leaves and sweet peppers. it too was also spicy, and a more interesting relative of the tamely spiced and more common larb.
again, we checked out the barbecued duck noodles, which came "dry" this time (without soup); their version came with a more than generous amount of fragrant roasted duck that was meaty and not-too-fatty and not-too-salty, with thin shards of perfectly crisp and delicate skin attached to the tender meat. the noodles themselves were superb, still with a firm bite, and sauced lightly with a soy-tinged duck broth and finished off with chopped fresh cilantro, green onion, and bean sprouts.
the highlight of the meal for me, however, was the black egg pow, which was at least half a dozen quartered preserved ducks' eggs stir-fried with sweet red peppers, medium-hot green jalapeño peppers, and fiery bird chili peppers, then topped with a tangled nest of deep-fried basil leaves and a sweet soy dressing. the eggs were the perfect base to all the peppers and soy--creamy custard soft, with a little bit of a crunchy crust, with a slight mustiness that only helped bring out the freshness of the basil and chilis. truly excellent. i'll return. soon.
also worth seeking out is the fabulous dessert/snacks emporium bhan kanom thai, which has a branch in the same complex as ruen pair. baked goods, a shave ice bar, a hot dessert bar, steamed rice cakes, grilled rice cakes, dried fruit, dried fish, thai bento, pork sticks...the assortment is mind-boggling. here are some photos. check it out, y'all.
5401 hollywood boulevard,
5257 hollywood boulevard,
5757 hollywood boulevard,
bhan kanom thai
various locations, including
5271 hollywood boulevard,
more photos of food from yai