Sunshine State

Photos by Anne Fishbein

As it courses through North Hollywood, Sherman Way may be the most aggressively multiculti strip of multiculti Los Angeles, a riot of signs in a dozen different alphabets; teenagers of every possible ethnicity with buzzcuts and 50 Cent blasting from their tricked-out Nissans. The big Chinese supermarket on Sherman Way stocks provisions for Peruvian, Mexican and Laotian kitchens. The local comedy club features performers who rock the mike in Tagalog. The only place in Los Angeles making Cornish pasties hides (or at least used to hide) around the corner from one of the only restaurants in town that serves the Andean vegetable olluco, a magenta-and-yellow tuber that in its raw state resembles a potato as reimagined by Dr. Seuss. And the mini-malls — the street is almost all mini-malls — are rigorously catholic in their composition, as if city zoning laws required an Asian noodle shop, an Armenian banquet hall and a taco stand on each developed property.

Not surprisingly, Sherman Way is among the better places on the continent to find a decent Thai restaurant. The Thai Buddhist temple, the grandest of its kind in the United States, is nearby on Coldwater Canyon, and a fair number of Thai-Americans live in the neighborhood. Expanded outlets of Sanamluang and Bangkok Market are on the street, as are the superb noodle shop Krua Thai, the supercheap Thai “tapas” at Swan and the excellent salads at nearby Bua Siam, among others. So it may have taken me longer than it should have to get around to Sunshine, related to the Hollywood noodle shop of the same name — there are a lot of restaurants around here to try.

Bronzed Santa helpers

Sunshine, which looks as if it has been stuffed into the shell of a former coffee shop, is a relentlessly cheerful place, brightly lit and gaudily decorated, staffed by waitresses who practically bounce to the table, bathed in upbeat Thai pop. One side of the restaurant is dominated by a wall-size mural of a stream, which itself is enhanced with carved elephants, full-size stuffed peacocks and a Toyota-size display of silk flowers. This time of year, a small, glowing Christmas tree stands surrounded by a collection of plush animals wearing Santa suits and angel robes. I was almost disappointed not to see a mounted deer head wearing a glass ornament for a nose, but perhaps I ask too much of a restaurant that doesn’t happen to be in Montana.

The menu here is a little left of center, featuring perfectly adequate versions of standards like chicken sautéed with basil and green curry, stinkily pink yen ta fo noodles and hot-sour shrimp soup, but rewarding of mild experimentation. Spring rolls are dead ringers for Malaysian-Chinese popiah, tiny crepes rolled around strata of tofu, Chinese sausage and bean sprouts, then slicked with a sugary sauce that you may recognize from Singaporean hawker stalls. The pad see ew, slippery, wide rice noodles charred in a wok with egg, sweet soy sauce and shrimp, are delicious if not subtle — crisp-edged, oily and tinged with smoke.

Still, it would be hard to make much of a case for a visit to a Thai restaurant mere steps from Krua Thai, which serves hands-down the best pad Thai in Los Angeles, if it weren’t for Sunshine’s golden fish. It’s an extraordinary dish, slabs of whitefish fried in the manner of Thai fish cakes and served with a salad of shredded mango. The concept may not look particularly good on paper, but it works like a dream on the plate: tawny and crisp, juicy and melting, tart, sweet and chile-hot all at once.

And Sunshine’s salads — papaya salad, barbecued-beef salad, sweet duck salad and the like — may be closer to Thai-Chinese cooking than to the intense Isaan side of the spectrum, but they manage to be pretty good nonetheless, especially the toasted-rice salad tossed with ground pork and slithery, crunchy bits of boiled pig’s-ear cartilage. If you have ever wanted to see how closely that particular appendage could ever approach a silk-purse sort of grace, this is as close as you’re ever going to get.

Sunshine, 13212 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, (818) 764-6989; Open Sun.-Thurs., 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. D, MC, V accepted. Beer and wine. Takeout. Lot parking. Recommended dishes: toasted-rice salad; golden fish with mango salad; Thai beef jerky.

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