My sister is attending her first year of undergrad at UCLA so it was inevitable that Mr. Tall and I occasionally explore the good eats in Los Angeles during our visits.
The place we always stop by for lunch is Thai Town. Located on Hollywood Boulevard (between Normandie and Western Avenue), Thai Town stretches several blocks down the street in a bit of a sketchy part of the city. Our favorite spot is definitely Ruen-Pae. Located in a small, strip-mall-like complex, between a donut shop and a Japanese restaurant, Ruen-Pae offers a very wide range of Thai dishes--from noodles, traditional side dishes to rice, and many offerings that you will not see on a menu of a typical Thai-American restaurant. The menu can be a bit overwhelming since it is so large, but if you take sometime to peruse through it, everyone is bound to find something they might like. Since I can generally get Thai iced tea at most Thai restaurants, I always opt for longan juice when dining at Ruen Pae. Made from dried longans, longan juice is sweet and refreshing with a subtle longan flavor. Other drink offerings include Thai iced coffee and sugar cane juice.
During one of our visits, my sister ordered Guay-taey kua gai, or stir-fry noodles with chicken, egg, bean sprouts and preserved squid. In Thailand, the dish is usually topped with little crispy Chinese donut, but I don't think it's made anywhere here in the U.S. (at least not that I have seen anyway). This dish was simply mediocre, and I don't think we would order it again. There are so many other things on the menu that are more traditional and tasty--including kao mun gai. As Zane Lamprey nicknamed it on the Food Network's "Have Fork, Will Travel," wow mun gai is one of Mr. Tall's favorite Thai dishes. Kao mun gai has a Chinese origin and has found immense popularity in Thailand. The chicken is boiled with some garlic and herbs. The rice, or kao mun, is cooked with garlic and chicken broth, giving the rice a depth of flavor and a little glisten! The chicken is served over the rice and with a nam jim, or a sauce, of fermented soybean, soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and ginger.
Call me a creature of habit or just a girl who knows what she likes, but I always get the same 4 dishes--som tum, larb, koh moo yang and kao neuw. The som tum Thai, or papaya salad, is made of shredded green papaya, cherry tomato, green beans, dried shrimps, palm sugar, fish sauce, lime juice, chilis, and peanuts (of course). Traditionally, all the flavoring ingredients are mashed in a mortar (usually a wooden one), then the papaya and vegetables are combined and finished with peanuts. There are variations on som tum, including one with salted, preserved little crabs called som tum pbooh, which Ruen Pae also offers.
With the som tum, I usually order koh moo yang (grilled pork neck) or larb (spicy ground meat "salad"). The menu lists koh moo yang as simply barbecue pork, but it is really the pig's neck portion grilled. The pork is quite fatty, but the sweet marinade and spicy nam jim work to balance the fattiness. This is arguably one of my favorite dishes ever (oh, and one of Mr. Tall's favorites, too). Seriously, if you have the opportunity to go to Thai Town or visit Thailand, be sure to try some grilled pork neck--you will thank me later.
My other favorite is larb. Larb is a relatively common dish offered in some Thai restaurants, but the rendition at Ruen Pae is pretty much like any larb you would get in Thailand.Larb is usually made with ground pork, cooked with ground toasted rice, shallot, cilantro, green onion, spear mint leaves, fish sauce, lime juice, and dried chili peppers. Larb is usually enjoyed along side som tum and kao neuw, or sticky rice. These dishes are Northeastern specialities that have long garnered extreme popularity in Bangkok. I could honestly eat som tum, larb or koh moo yang, and sticky rice everyday and be a happy Thai camper.
There are other places in the same complex as Ruen Pae that are worth checking out. My family usually visit Ganda, which is on the other side of the complex and offer a variety of prepared dishes for take-out, desserts and snacks. I have gotten take-out from Ganda once before and it was pretty good, but the "B" rating from the health inspection keeps me from going back; although I occasionally pick up some desserts and snacks from there. Another place that is a must for sweets lover is Baan Kanom Thai, or literally house of Thai desserts. It offers a plethora of homemade Thai desserts, imported snacks (durian chips anyone?) and so much more! My sister and her friends visit other places in Thai Town such as Krung Tedd, but Mr. Tall and I always end up going back to Ruen Pae because the food is always authentic and the service always courteous. I also pack my cooler full of to-go orders to take back to San Diego--usually some spicy basil stir-fry, curries and grilled pork neck (I really do love it that much).
I have yet to find Thai food in San Diego as authentic as the food in Thai Town. Nonetheless, my philosophy for Thai food in San Diego and the rest of California is that even if the food is not authentic, if the interpretation is genuine and flavorful, then I can't complain too much. So, if you can't make it to Thailand, then you'll definitely want to visit Thai Town for authentic Thai food with very reasonable prices. Thai Town holds a celebration of Songkran, or Thai New Years, on the first Sunday of every April with food vendors and entertainment along the streets. Wat Buddhajakramongkolratanaram, a Thai temple in Escondido, also holds an event for Songkran with food stands and entertainment.
School had been really busy this past semester, leaving me no time to do many leisure activities. Even though I'll be working full-time this summer, I hope to update the blog more often.
Little Miss Contrary
Coming up: more good eats in LA and vacation with LMC & Mr. Tall in Santa Barbara!