Some call it East Hollywood, but many more know it as Thai Town, a glowing, neon causeway of great late-night restaurants, karaoke bars and slingers of Chang beer towers. It's an area of town that not only welcomes after-hours consumption but glorifies it --- filled with brimming bowls of pungent noodle soup, plump fried shrimp balls and spicy salads made with a laundry list of exotic ingredients. Here's a rundown of our favorite places to eat in Thai Town.
10. Crispy Pork Gang:
The fried pork dish known as moo tod is a staple at many late-night Thai diners in Hollywood, including a few located in the same strip mall as Crispy Pork Gang. But the cubes of pork belly, crunchy as croutons, are the best here. You can have them served in myriad ways -- tossed in fried rice or crispy rice salad, in soup or mixed with funky cured duck eggs. But the most popular way to order the famous pork might be wok-seared with a sauce redolent of red chile and garlic, along with some long, slippery strands of sauteed morning glory. The lightness of the morning glory cuts the heaviness of the pork beautifully, making for a balanced dish that's among our favorites. 5253 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; 323-465-9796.
9. Siam Sunset:
Attached to the Hollywood Value Inn is this small, L-shaped coffee shop, which might resemble any other greasy spoon if not for the selection of Chinese-Thai breakfast dishes scrawled, in Thai, on the far wall. Breakfast of champions: fresh-fried Chinese doughnuts dipped in condensed milk, tofu pudding with ginger syrup, and jok, rice porridge with slices of preserved egg. It's all available at rock-bottom prices, ensuring your early-morning fill-up leaves you with plenty of lunch and dinner funds. 5265 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; 323-467-8935.
8. Bhan Kanom Thai:
Tucked inside New Hollywood Plaza, across from Ruen Pair and Crispy Pork Gang, is Thai Town's premier sweet shop. The walls are lined with a plethora of multicolored ingredients and treats, plus a cooler case in back stocked with mung bean puddings and bright fruit-studded gelatins. The best items are those that can be snatched up from under the rows of heat lamps up front, including the creamy little coconut spheres called kanom krok, succulent taro cakes flavored with corn and coconut, and crispy crepes folded and stuffed with custard, known colloquially as "Thai tacos." 5271 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; 323-871-8030.
7. Sanamluang Cafe:
A large sign near the front of this colorful establishment promises "the best noodles in town." If you've tried the pad thai or pad-see-ew, two Thai restaurant staples enlivened with a bracing zap of umami, you're likely to agree with that claim. Don't forgot the big, comforting bowls of chicken soup, flavored with roasted garlic, Chinese broccoli and shiitake mushrooms. Ideal for a rainy night. 5176 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; 323-660-8006.
If there is one menu in town that has the best chance of being written about by cultural anthropologists 20 years from now, it's Jitlada's collection of Southern Thai specialties. The eatery's epic range of toxic-smelling curries and fiery salads has become a firm part of the L.A. canon. The restaurant, which these days serves more celebrities than BOA, has developed a cult following like nowhere else in town. After a plate of coconut mango salad or one of marinated raw blue crab, you probably should try the plump New Zealand mussels, stacked shell to shell, swimming inside a piping hot metal bowl. 5233 W. Sunset Blvd., L.A., 323-663-3104
While we were originally attracted by the promise of cheap liquor, it turns out that Darabar also serves a tasty menu of some harder-to-find Thai dishes, which alone should warrant a daytime visit. Staples like the khao kluk kapi, shrimp paste fried rice with shredded egg, green apple and sweet pork sausage; and the hoy tod, a fried omelet studded with mussels, are more than solid. Just don't make the mistake of asking for the raw crab papaya salad -- probably one of the best in town, along with Krua Siri across the street -- to be prepared spicy, and then be stuck wishing you had something besides a glass of scotch to soothe your burning tongue. 5112 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; 323-668-2717.
4. Spicy BBQ:
Spicy BBQ is best known for its heavily seasoned Northern Thai dishes, including lap thawt, fiery, fried pork patties that look like something Farmer John would come up with if he spent a few years floating along the Mekong, and nam prik oom, a pounded chile dip made with heaps of garlic and serrano peppers served with cucumbers, cabbage and crunchy fried pork rinds. Equally renowned is the restorative khai soi, a rich chicken noodle soup thickened with coconut milk and topped with raw onions and house-made pickles. 5101 Santa Monica Blvd., L.A.; 323-663-4211.
3. Ruen Pair:
When your favorite bartender announces last call, Ruen Pair is the place to head. A selection of Thai comfort foods, duck leg soup and plate-sized fried omelets made with strands of salty turnip are some of the best versions in town. Ruen Pair also seems to have a deft hand with salads, including a beef larb made interesting by a handful of crunchy toasted rice powder and crushed chile. 5257 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; 323-466-0153.
2. Krua Siri
Krua Siri, a small restaurant located in the eastern stretch of Thai town, might be best known among certain Hollywood residents as the place that delivers until the wee hours of the morning. For others, it is better known as a headquarters for intensely flavorful Northern Thai cuisine. If you avoid bland pitfalls like teriyaki salmon or orange chicken, and instead ask your server to steer you toward the special (previously untranslated) Issan-style menu, you will be rewarded with fragrant curries, four-day fermented sausage, funky papaya salad and a potent rice salad made with crispy bits of duck skin. 5103 Hollywood Blvd., L.A.; 323-660-6196.
1. Pa-Ord Noodle:
As much as we love the version at Sapp Coffee Shop, the boat noodles at Pa-Ord Noodle are graduate-level stuff -- the Bitches Brew of Bangkok cuisine. You're headed to a specialist of extra-murky boat noodles, or kuay tiew rua, one of Thailand's most beloved street foods. The broth is thickened with pork blood and perfumed with star anise. It's unrelentingly spicy, with zaps of sweet and sour nipping the edges of your tongue. The bowl is filled with scraps of offal you might not be able to identify: perforated squares of tripe, a slice of liver or spleen, a handful of crushed-up chicharron and a fish ball or two bobbing in the soup like pale apples. Good stuff. 5301 Sunset Blvd., L.A.; 323-461-3945.
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