Fried rice has roots in China and initially provided a way to breathe new life into leftover steamed rice. But that doesn’t mean it's intended to be an afterthought. Many Asian restaurants in L.A. take their fried rice seriously, featuring vibrant ingredients prepared in a variety of compelling ways. Follow this grain-lined path of 10 fried rice triumphs, listed in alphabetical order.
Ayara Thai, located on a side street near LAX, is named after beloved Thai elephants. Chef Vanda Asapahu and family debuted their restaurant in 2004; her mom hails from northern Thailand and her dad from central Thailand, so you’ll find influences from both regions on the menu. Crab fried rice ($12) uses real crab meat; a claw rises from beneath the mound like some sort of zombie crustacean. Ayara's rice is fluffy and folded with scallions, onions and scrambled egg. Garnishes include cilantro, sliced cucumber and a squeeze of lime. 6245 W. 87th St., Westchester; (310) 410-8848, ayarathaicuisine.com.
Chef Kwang Uh and partner Matthew Kim preside over Baroo, a “free-style experimental kitchen” in a Hollywood strip mall. In a matter of months, they have built a following for their fermentation-fueled cuisine — without the benefit of a sign. A baroo is a bowl that Buddhist monks keep for a lifetime, and they would no doubt appreciate filling it with the kimchi fried rice ($9) here, which is unlike any kimchi fried rice in L.A. Amira basmati rice hosts fermented pineapple kimchi, a jiggling 63-degree-Celsius sous-vide egg sprinkled with toasted buckwheat and quinoa, a quenelle of gremolata, pineapple jalapeño salsa, vivid purple potato chips, nori strips, spices and a microgreens garnish. The dish is gluten-free and vegetarian, but you can add bacon and Spanish chorizo for two dollars extra. 5706 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 819-4344, baroola.strikingly.com.
Cassia, a standout Southeast Asian brasserie from chef Bryant Ng, Kim Luu-Ng, Josh Loeb and Zoe Nathan, housed in an art deco building in Santa Monica, has progressed from the late, great Spice Table in myriad ways. A larger space has allowed Ng to implement programs like house-made, Asian-inflected charcuterie, two varieties of which factor into Ng's charcuterie fried rice ($16). Smoky Chinese bacon and slivers of lap cheong join savory salted fish, along with crunchy strips of lettuce tossed with rice that’s seemingly oil-free. Cilantro adds a finishing flourish. 1314 Seventh St., Santa Monica; (310) 393-6699, cassiala.com.
This stylish restaurant from chef Chloe Tran, partner John Vu Cao and American Gonzo Food Corporation enlivened downtown Culver City with modern, “Fraiche Vietnamese” cooking. A reclaimed wood façade gives way to massive cyclo visuals, communal seating and lanterns shaped like vials, orbs and rounds. The fried rice ($13) is pleasantly funky, with big pieces of salt cod, dark-meat chicken, mildly bitter rapini and charred scallions. Cilantro and a squeeze of lime both help round out the bowl. 9810 Washington Blvd., Culver City; (310) 596-8266, east-borough.com.
This modern restaurant from chef Sang Yoon in Culver City’s Helms Bakery complex features a mellow patio, open kitchen and a style of pan-Asian cuisine that’s typically prepared with a twist. Crab fried rice ($14) features jasmine rice tossed with sweet strands of Indonesian blue crab meat, egg, pea tendrils, serrano chilies, scallions and red onion, all wok-fried in peanut oil that subtly coats the grains. 3239 Helms Ave., Culver City; (310) 204-1865, lukshon.com.
Luv2Eat Thai Bistro
Chefs Noree Pla and Fern Kaewtathip quickly turned their ragtag Thai restaurant in Hollywood’s Cherokee Plaza into a draw, which helped fund expansion after just a year in business. You’ll want to plow through their delectable shrimp paste fried rice ($10), served with nine condiments: egg, green apple, dried shrimp, red onion, carrot, green bean, sweet pork, chile and lime. The enticingly pungent plate resembles a Thai bibimbap and calls for mixing to fully integrate all the spicy, sweet and tart flavors. 6660 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 498-5835, luv2eatthai.com.
This restaurant from Ming Lu Liu and family has been a mainstay in Alhambra’s World Plaza for almost three decades. It's probably best known for its house-made noodles and pan-fried dumplings. If those are Ming Wa’s double majors, then the restaurant minors in dishes with pot herb. The pungent pickled mustard green is minced and folded into the rice, and it pairs beautifully with pork squiggles and fluffy scrambled egg in “shredded pork with potherb fried rice” ($7.25). The portion is twice as big as it needs to be given the price — not that we’re complaining. 1227 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 458-8338.
This standout Peruvian restaurant on a high-traffic stretch of Van Nuys features Peruvian travel posters and little else in the way of décor. Peru is home to a sizable Chinese population, which has fueled a particular localized style of Chinese cuisine called Chifa. Arroz chaufa is fried rice, a Chifa staple. At Puro Sabor, arroz chaufa puro sabor ($12.50) usually includes strips of beef, chicken and plump shrimp, though you can substitute chewy roast pork, since pork is almost always an upgrade over chicken. Puro Sabor’s chaufa is fluffy, lightly flavored with soy sauce and not oily in the least, flecked with scrambled egg and garnished with scallions for crunch. Squeeze on creamy, house-made aji crafted with huacatay (black mint) and aji amarillo to deliver a deft punch. 6366 Van Nuys Blvd., Van Nuys; (818) 908-0818.
This high-volume Mid-City restaurant and bakery from Walter and Margarita Manzke casts a global net. The couple runs several restaurants in Manila, which have served as a jumping-off point for their Asian exploration. Adobo fried rice ($16) was inspired by Margarita Manzke’s Filipino heritage. Cubes of seared pork belly join two crispy fried eggs with vivid orange yolks, clipped scallions and tangy, savory fried rice. Each bowl also comes with a small ramekin of house-made Sriracha. Kimchi fried rice ($16) is a nod to nearby Koreatown, with tender chunks of short rib, a pair of poached eggs and a blizzard of sesame and scallions for color and crunch. 624 S. La Brea Ave., Mid-City; (310) 362-6115, republiquela.com.
Walnut is a little-known San Gabriel hamlet that’s an Indonesian hotbed. Cheong Hi Cheung and his wife, Lie Ing Kwee, hail from Surabaya in east Java and opened Sate House in the back corner of a strip mall in 2011. The decor is limited to flowered carpet, a fish tank and faux plants, but the nasi goreng ($8.25) deserves special attention for its shrimp paste, which imparts a savory quality that makes it impossible to stop eating this dish. Chicken, pork and shrimp all meld seamlessly with the spiced grains, and a fried egg on top never hurts. On the side, you’ll find punchy pickled vegetables. Versions with lamb, beef tripe and beef balls also are available. 812 Nogales St., Walnut; (626) 581-7726.