Sometimes we're creatures of habit and can't help but order the tried-and-true Thai staples like pad Thai or pad see ew. Of course, there are so many other, more interesting Thai dishes out there that don't get the same love. From a naked shrimp salad that's like Thai ceviche to a Thai biryani, here are some unique alternatives to order the next time you're in and around Thai Town.
Crispy rice salad from Pa Ord Noodle
Nam khao tod (aka crispy rice salad) is an explosion of sour and spicy flavors. The dish is playful with its textures: deep-fried clusters of crispy rice, slices of springy naem (fermented, sour pork sausage), snappy red onions, chewy ginger and crunchy roasted peanuts. A spicy lime sauce holds the dish together. You can order this with no spice, but you should go for mild at least. 5301 Sunset Blvd., East Hollywood; (323) 461-3945, paordnoodle.com.
Spare-rib tom yum noodles at Hoy-Ka Thai Noodles
Sure, you can always get amazing boat noodles at Hoy-Ka, but the spare-rib tom yum noodles also should be a top contender. This is comfort food at its best: The sweet-and-sour soup base is full of umami, and inside the bowl you'll find a hearty helping of large chunks of fatty and tender spare ribs, slices of juicy char siu pork and ground pork. It's also accompanied by fresh bean sprouts, thin slices of green beans, slices of green onions and crushed peanuts. Order it as spicy as you'd like — the staff is very accommodating. If you want an extra treat, ask for an order of crunchy chicharrones to top your soup. 5908 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 463-2979, hoykahollywood.net.
Naked shrimp salad at Hoy-Ka Thai Noodles
While Hoy-Ka may be best known for its noodles, its naked shrimp salad is a refreshing appetizer that should kickstart your meal. A row of large, fresh raw shrimp covered in a spicy lime and garlic dressing sits on a bed of shredded cabbage and carrots. Since it has a bit of a kick, you might want to order a Thai iced tea to cool you down. 5908 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 463-2979, hoykahollywood.net.
Khao Soi from Khao Soi by Inthanon Thai
When a restaurant's name has the words “khao soi” in it, then you know they must mean business about this northern Thai dish. The bowl comes with egg noodles in a delicious curry-coconut broth that's thinner than your average viscous Thai curry. It's topped with a hard-boiled egg and a little nest of fried egg noodles. You can choose from 12 different protein options, including crispy pork, chicken and tofu. Each bowl also comes with sides of pickled mustard greens, onions and lime; we suggest adding all of that in your bowl for a pleasant punch. 5907 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 464-1790.
Jade noodles from Sapp Coffee Shop
This hole-in-the-wall spot that Anthony Bourdain featured on No Reservations gets a lot of cred for its boat noodles, but we're even bigger fans of its jade noodles. This dish hits sweet and savory notes and looks like Christmas in a bowl. A bed of spinach egg noodles is topped with red char siu pork, crab meat, roast duck, Chinese broccoli and slices of green onions. Make sure to squeeze on the lime juice and give the bowl a good toss before digging in. 5183 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 665-1035.
Deep-fried crab rolls from Sapp Coffee Shop
If you want a variation on your average egg roll, we suggest trying the deep-fried crab rolls at Sapp. These pork-and-crab-filled rolls are encased in a sheet of bean curd, which lends the appetizer a crispy crunch. The rolls are sliced into nice, shareable pieces and accompanied by a sweet chili dipping sauce. 5183 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 665-1035.
Crispy morning glory salad from Jitlada
The menu at Jitlada can be overwhelming (after all, it lists 300 dishes), but a good starter dish that never disappoints is the crispy morning glory salad. The delicate morning glory (Chinese watercress) is lightly battered and deep-fried, and it's served with juicy shrimp, red onions, red cabbage, cilantro and the restaurant's spicy house dressing. The flavors are a perfect balance of sweet, sour and spicy. 5233 Sunset Blvd., East Hollywood; (323) 667-9809, jitladala.wordpress.com.
Grilled pork from Hollywood Thai
There are lots of things we love about Hollywood Thai, from the live guitarist who performs almost every night to how you can order a Long Island iced tea from the full bar. But our favorite thing of all is the highly addictive grilled pork. The juicy, succulent pork is cut into strips and grilled to perfection. While that's already flavorful enough, it comes with a house-made chili sauce, which makes the pork spicy, tangy and rather salty — something we don't mind at all, but we suggest pairing the dish with some white rice to tame the flavors. 5241 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 467-0926, hollywoodthairestaurant.net.
Khoa mok gai from KT Thai Cuisine
KT Thai Cuisine (you know, the restaurant next to Jumbo's Clown Room) whips up a delicious khoa mok gai — the Thai version of a biryani. This Thai-Muslim dish has succulent steamed chicken mixed into yellow curry rice. But it's the extra condiments that make the dish special: crispy fried shallots and mint chutney. The khoa mok gai is paired with a bowl of clear broth for sipping, making this a soothing comfort dish. 5151 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 667-9800, kruangtedd.com.
Deep-fried papaya salad from Lacha Somtum
Lacha Somtum is a gem of a restaurant tucked away on Hollywood Boulevard. It specializes in northeastern Thai cuisine and has an impressive list of 10 or so papaya salads. One of our favorites is the deep-fried papaya salad, in which the fruit is julienned, dipped in flour and deep-fried. On the side is a spicy and citrusy sauce made with chunks of tomatoes, peanuts, chili, long beans, dried shrimp and lime juice. It's kept separate so the crispy papaya doesn't get soggy. 5171 Hollywood Blvd., Los Feliz; (323) 486-7380, lachasomtum.com.