Some might find Cholada Thai Beach Cuisine in Malibu too terminally atmospheric, with its sea-corroded beach-hut ambience, thick oak tables and sagging wooden windows, situated next door to a working bait shop straight out of Gilligan's Island. But this isn't a façade for tourists, it's real. You sit a few feet from Pacific Coast Highway, watching surfers as they strip, don their wet suits and vanish over a small bluff toward the waves at Topanga Beach. Inside this tiny cafe, despite the racket from the kitchen, you hear three college guys recount their beer-swilling the night before — while at another table the diners earnestly discuss the nexus between compassion and redemption. Any minute, the ghost of Bukowski might saunter in. Why are you there? For the appetizers! Shrimp-in-a-blanket — deep-fried in spring-roll skins that the chefs twirl tight to look like tiny mummies; and fish cakes — ugly brownish lumps that resemble seriously overdone hunks of omelette. Both deliver the same wow: Bite down, seafood melts in mouth, swallow. 18763 Pacific Coast Hwy., Malibu. (310) 317-0025,

—N. Jenssen

LA Weekly