Los Angeles strip malls are made for Thai food and burgers. The low ceilings, faded posters and open, smoky kitchens are what give strip-mall eateries their unique appeal. The table you're sitting at probably needs a napkin or two pushed under one leg to balance it out, and there's a 50-50 chance the place you're lunching at takes credit cards. These are strip-mall staples, and burger shops and pad Thai spots execute them to a T.
Case in point: the strip mall on the north side of Venice Boulevard, just east of Sepulveda. There's that Howard's Famous Bacon & Avocado Burgers sign that will always catch your eye, and you can never tell exactly how long the place has been open. A decade? Four decades? Since the Gold Rush? You also can squint to try to catch a glimpse inside of Moo Moo Thai Cafe. That is, unless you remember the old Thai Market that used to occupy the same space. In which case, you may be looking away in disgust.
Here's what we found.
Whether you tolerate the relatively new Moo Moo Thai Cafe (circa 2011) depends entirely on how you feel about cheap, abundant, steam-table Thai food. If you adore that sticky, spicy, goopy sort of stuff, it never got better than Thai Market, where $5 netted you enough food for about six highly questionable meals. For everyone else, Moo Moo is a welcome addition to the neighborhood.
At around 60 dishes, the menu is large and in charge, with a hefty run of reasonable lunch specials for anyone working in the area. Of course, if you really want to piss off your coworkers, opt for the Herbal Fried Fish, which is a whole, deep-fried trout that's been given the heavy hand with some chiles, lemongrass and cashews. Otherwise, there are curries, thin, dense noodles, crispy pork and the all-important Thai soups.
On the sillier side of things, you can tackle the appetizer menu for wonton-wrapped cheese and carrot balls and a thinly stripped fried mushroom plate known only as I Can't Believe This Is Mushroom. Or, for a curry eggroll sort of amalgamation, the Moo Moo Curry Puffs (pictured above) arrive as seasoned sticks of potato and chicken, wrapped in a thin spring-roll sheet. They're ideal for saucing and plowing through while you wait for your main course to arrive, but with Moo Moo closing at 10 p.m., you'll probably never get to use them for their perfect purpose: soaking up booze. Not that you'd stumble out from a nearby bar and head straight for the Thai food at Moo Moo's anyway. We've already got Pranom for that. Moo Moo Thai Cafe is open Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and it accepts credit cards. 11127 Venice Blvd. ste. 10, Palms; (310) 287-9999.
You know the sign. It lights up at night, beaming with what looks like handwritten cursive, with a shaggy HOWARD'S running diagonally across the top. Cleverly, the bacon and avocado signifiers are painted reddish brown and bright green, respectively. It's a hell of a sign, and it has doubtless left thousands of commuters wondering just what the hell was actually inside the place.
Not much, really. A few hard wooden booths, a strip of countertop and a smoky, acrid griddle just behind it. The menu board against the back wall lists the usual array of 100% beef burgers, dolloped with chili or a fried egg. There are also Hoffy hot dogs, a regional all-beef frank that mimics the snap and taste of Pink's, and traditional BLTs, tuna melts and a few out-of-place taco options. It's almost as if these sorts of old-school burger places all communicate with each other about what to offer.
But you haven't been sitting in traffic, staring at that sign, wondering how the hot dogs are. At Howard's, you want the namesake bacon and avocado burger, because any place so sure of its one-dish abilities that it has a color-coded sign about it probably does that one dish right. Or, mostly right. The $5.40 Famous Bacon (that word is colored on the menu board, too, for effect) and Avocado Burger definitely does come with everything as advertised, but don't expect to be overloaded with salty pork strips or thick slices of avocado. The burger is actually much simpler than that, with just enough thinly griddled beef, partially melted American cheese, creamy avocado and mostly limp bacon to wrap the whole thing into one tight little lunch option. Or dinner option, if Venice Boulevard is really at a standstill and your hunger pains are kicking in. Howard's is cash only, and it's open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. 11127 Venice Blvd. ste. 7, Palms; (310) 838-9111.
You know the drill. 31 flavors, endless samples, and the sort of quiet ambivalence that you've come to expect from any
strip-mall chain ice cream store worker teenager. If you want authenticity, the least you could do is hit up the original Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop location nearby. 11127 Venice Blvd., Palms; (310) 836-4546.
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