Indonesian food is fundamentally earthy: Think of spicy red sambal sauce paired with ayam goreng (fried chicken), or fish paste balls and a creamy peanut sauce over lean bean sprouts and crispy green vegetables. Meals are sometimes served on banana leaves, and each dish is designed to stuff you full. And if you're into exotic fruit, all of these places serve up a mean durian milkshake.
The cuisine is as diverse as the 18,000 islands on the archipelago of Indonesia. There isn't much of it in Los Angeles. In the States, there are only 44,000 Indonesians compared to the six figure count of Chinese, Japanese and Koreans, respectively, and the restaurant figures reflect that statistic.
Turn the page for our round-up of five great Indonesian restaurants in Los Angeles.
5. Chicky's BBQ:
Satay originated in Indonesia, so it's no wonder that the grilled meats at Chicky's are so wonderfully succulent. The owners are Chinese-Indonesian and it's one of the few places you can get pork satay — which can't be found at native Indonesian joints because it's not halal. Although the take-out counter sports Americanized options, grab a seat and try their specialties. Choose the nasi padang for a crash course in Indonesian food. It's a combination plate of chicken and beef curry, a wonderfully spiced-up kale with a coconut-infused boiled egg. 1206 Huntington Dr., Ste. A, Duarte; 626-357-1500.
4. Janty Noodle:
Located in a spacious plaza off the 10 freeway, Janty Noodle is the city's specialist in Indonesian-style Chinese mie ayam. The key to this dish is the al dente noodles — but a dollop of sambal adds the extra kick. You'll get a plate of noodles and a foam container of clear broth with fish balls. Do as the locals do: Take a spoonful of sambal and dip it into the broth. Then take another spoonful and smear it all over the noodles. Top it all off with dried shallots and mix well. Their chicken mushroom special is the star of the show: soft mats of egg noodles, two quail eggs, vegetables, bean sprouts, chicken and sliced mushrooms with brightly pink slices of barbecued pork, or babi panggang merah. 989 S. Glendora Ave., West Covina; 626-480-1808.
3. Indo Kitchen:
The food here is by way of West Java. That just means it's saltier than in the east. Like many Asian restaurants, the menu is massive; you just need to know what to order. Start off with the gado-gado, which literally means “mix-mix.” It's salad with more creamy peanut sauce than actual vegetables. They also have siomay on the menu — the Indonesian version of shu mai but topped with a lovely mess of peanut sauce, cabbage, egg and steamed bitter gourd. 5 N. Fourth St., Alhambra; 626-282-1676.
2. Wong Java House:
Wong Java House, or house of the Java people, has a remarkably delicious Kalasan fried chicken. The menu is an eclectic mix of offerings from the islands of Jakarta, West and East Java, Kurniawan and Hendra. At $7.50, the nasi bungkus combination plate is a spectacular congregation of beef balado, fried chicken, egg balado and green chili served over a fragrant banana leaf. 1936 West Valley Blvd., Alhambra; 626-289-2717.
1. Simpang Asia:
Located in a tiny complex on National Blvd. near Motor Ave., Simpang Asia is one of the cheapest places for lunch in Los Angeles. You can get a terrific meal for less than five dollars and though their dishes can't necessarily be categorized as refined restaurant cooking, they do serve hearty regional dishes that taste like great, home-cooked meals. Simpang is also the perfect place to go for a crash course in Indonesian food, as they specialize in popular Indonesian options. Try the mie tek-tek and the nasi kuning — turmeric rice with roast chicken and eggs in a balado sauce. 10433 National Blvd., Los Angeles; 310-815-9075.
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