This unassuming corner spot in the brutally warm mid-Valley is billed as a "Vietnamese Vegan Restaurant & Tofu Factory", which is an important distinction as you will see. Kevin Tran invents, experiments, and triumphs, coming up with brilliant vegan food and sneaking new daily specials onto his Facebook profile.
The smells from the kitchen are highly attractive, apparently enough so that Kevin has locals coming in and out all day calling him by name; Kevin will often slouch over the counter chatting with regulars. The colorful wall of photos is a little bewildering, so grab a multi-paged menu. After you order, he will shrug and tell you to pay after.
On a recent 108-degree afternoon* my brain is braised enough to think that a nice hot bowl of soup is a fine idea.
The Curry Duck Soup smells superb, the broth nuanced with a sly coconut twang, pepper-flecked and oil-spotted. It is stunningly balanced, each spoonful of curry broth worthy of contemplation by itself.
And this, despite appearances, is not actually duck. Somehow Mr. Tran has matched the rich, elastic oiliness of duck skin, goosefleshed and chewy, wrapped around a more conventional grained "meat" of gluten, and there's quite a bit of it hiding in the broth. If you have issues with gluten, this shan't be your choice because it gets seriously heavy after a while, but it's so good.
Stiff, disinterested carrot slices and tofu (somewhere) is here, too, along with a clean pile of bean sprouts and your choice of rice or rice vermicelli, available to populate your soup. A few bottles of sriracha and hot red pepper paste line the wall, but you won't need them here.
A fine example of a glass noodle dish that isn't a congealed, chopstick-defeating mass, the Stir-Fried Mung Bean Noodle has clear white onion, violently verdant bell pepper, and mean little slices of serrano. It usually comes with "fish sticks," half-Isosceles triangles of breaded crunch, but I prefer this with "chicken", translucent strips sauce-soaked to a tea brown, completing the textural firmness of meat and egg. Zingy, bonito-like flakes dance atop.
Possibly the most head-clappingly revelatory dish, the Ginger Chicken is of course soy, firm and ungrained like dark meat chicken; collected by a stack of steamed brown rice, the chicken is pale and gleaming from the warm ginger sauce, sweet and unbelievably lovely to the point where you consider buying a ring and declaring your love for it. The dish is ringed by cucumber slices and shredded carrot, made lively with a vinaigrette.
They make stuff to go too, cut sushi rolls and buns and banana desserts, that you are tempted to snatch up from the counter and add to your bill. I won't stop you.
Vinh Loi is open from 9 to 9 daily.
* Mind you, this had cooled down to a hundred and eight. There was a spot on the 101 around Coldwater Canyon where the Mini Cooper was registering 113 that day.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Thai, The Valley )
If, after you've exited the Los Angeles City Attorney's office on Hollywood Boulevard, acquired some smoking paraphernalia from No Limit Tobacco & Pipes, gotten a Thai massage, and decided upon a shoulder piece from Atomic Tattoo, you happen to be hungry, Truly Vegan is most happily positioned.
Seven tables of--I'm tired of always saying chlorophyll, so I'll say they're Dartmouth Green--line the walls. The pale golden floor might be bamboo, but is patterned to look like distressed wood planks. They may not be gushingly friendly here, but they are attentive, and despite its not being on the menu they kindly made me a sweet and creamy iced coffee when I asked.
I like my vegan food solid and hearty, and the Loafing About works for me. A lentil loaf is heavily seasoned and grilled, with onions and red peppers chopped finely enough so that they lend only their presence rather than a stubborn crunch. The texture is dense like hash browns yet almost pillowy. The loaf comes dry, and with it is a squeeze bottle of some really good homemade ketchup, and some white sesame blend with lime, almost like spicy, sassy milk.
Steamed broccoli and cauliflower are there to bolster the generally unused corner of my four food groups. I pour the sesame sauce on them, too. Fluffy brown rice is there too, not vital, but well-made.
The Lad Na is more liquid than expected for standard Thai, wide rice noodles falling nearly apart from their total immersion in black bean soy gravy. The gravy itself is a gelatinous, soupy lake that holds its heat like a muzzled dragon; draped over the broccoli and tofu, it renders them too hot to enjoy until they're well-blown upon.
You can add soy fish, chicken or seitan on this, more for the textural analog than for similarity of flavor. The Lad Na is even better the next day.
There's breakfast for lunch, too. It's good, occasionally, to move away from the astoundingly good but psychotically flavored specialties of some places. Several combinations of pancakes abound here, and the Breakfast of Champions puts them all together. Wheat free, gluten free pancakes are comfortable and surprisingly good, with maple syrup and melty vegan margarine atop. Two big, convincing patties of soy chicken are sliced like katsu and fried into something puffy, sweet and almost pastrylike.
The effect isn't exactly Roscoe's, but it's grainy and comforting, missing nothing except that feeling of creamy uselessness one gets after pancake breakfasts. A glass of cool vegan milk, subtle with that sides-of-the-tongue tinge of almond, goes well with this.
Parking is usually found along Hollywood, probably by the Toyota dealer.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Vegetarian/Vegan, American, Thai )
Its corner has become a happy terminus for those who know Thai food. The decor is half homely, half elegant, the tabletops patterned with reviews from Jonathan Gold and the L.A. Times. Gentle piano instrumentals caress the ceiling*. The owner, Sarintip "Jazz" Singsanong, flits from table to table like a friendly hummingbird, checking on the joy of her regular patrons. Her brother and co-owner, Suthiporn "Tui" Sungkamee, cooks.
Jitlada specializes in the Southern Thai** cuisine of their childhood, characterized by a little more intensity and density in its flavors. The food is a touch closer to India, a touch closer to Malaysia, and a touch closer to the Sun. They offer typical fare at the front of the menu, with all the common Pad Thais, Tom Khas and Mee Krobs, but also a unique collection of Southern Thai dishes, the Capsaicin level of which pulls your trousers down and laughs at you.
The Thai Spring rolls aren't unusual but are a well-assembled starter. Veggies are rolled into thumb-sized rice paper drums and fried; the result is clean and elastic inside, armored with a golden crunch outside.
Daring deeper, these jewels have been written about and photographed in every Los Angeles-based food source. The Mussels on Flambé are grilled and kept bubbling in a broth over flame.
Pull the contents, shaped vaguely like dinosaur skulls, from shells alive with every color; the mussels are infinitely tender but resilient, and totally non-briny. The broth is simply amazing, thick with black and white pepper, opaque and soaring on the tongue. You will continue to pick up a spoon and take just one more sip from this.
Moving now with trepidation into the Jitladian Jungle, I try a familiar but savory Cow Man Kai. Pale chicken is laid over Hai Nan rice, which has tiny strings of ginger and is nicely sticky. A dish of special garlic ginger sauce adds sweetness. The effect is clean and fresh and wholesome; the scallion-dotted chicken broth that comes with this is a little saltier than that at Wat Dong Moon Lek, but it meshes well when spooned over the oily rice.
There is another dish you can see here, the green one, that contains Jitlada's special sauce, used for everything. It's brutal but attractive, and you keep using it because underneath the searing heat is an extraordinary pepper lime flavor.
My first real foray into this spice-bully world is the not-quite-on-the-back-menu Southern Curry, an amber collection of red and green peppers, jicama, potatoes, ribbed carrots, and textured chicken, light on coconut milk and cumin, confident with turmeric. It is immediately urgent, a most flavorful pain that doesn't let up.
See that scalloped dish of carrots and cucumbers on ice? They give you that to cool off the burn. It helps, a little. Not much. I'm told by the smiling waiter that this is "kind of entry level--you get past this, everything else, hmm, spicy, but okay."
My tongue begins to wonder if it's being burned at the stake for heresy.
Do I stop? No. It's so wonderfully polished and complex and just plain tasty. I'll just have to inefficaciously keep sipping tea and water. Both glasses are soon empty, and to my growing panic, not quickly refilled.
My glasses are fogging up. Wait. I don't have my glasses on.
I'm unsure which part of the title to use from the menu, so when I say that Bianca orders the khanõm jiin "Meuang Khon" 5 náam 3 dâng, I mean that she orders rice vermicelli with fish balls in a Southern curry sauce.
Vermicelli was not made for tomatoey Italian pastas. It was made for submergence in a richly yellow swamp of curry. A side dish of delicacies is intended for mixing in: green onions, cabbage, pickled cabbage, bean sprouts, cucumbers, and carrots. They add toothsome shapes of texture.
The sauce is not as hot as the Southern Curry, but they might well have been taking it easy on us. It's milky and light, and its spice leaps over the tongue like a panther for the vulnerable back of your throat. A single Singha beer does its best to calm down our nerves, which are getting a little frantic with the "it's a bit hot up here, sir, please send help" messages they're dispatching. It throws Bianca into an endorphin euphoria.
Jitlada can be expensive considering its Thai Town environs, but not considering its royal status in Los Angeles. Choose a specialty or a seafood item and the cost can leap over twenty per dish. The teas and coffees are usually three dollars and more. It's worth it.
The parking lot is there, but there will be cars in it, blocking themselves.
* And not necessarily the ones you'd expect. There's nothing quite like the realization that you're listening to a muzak version of "Don't Cry for Me Argentina," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Whiter Shade of Pale," and the love theme from The Godfather.
* Specifically, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province, along the Malay Peninsula. In case you go.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Thai )
Already I am pleased. The walls are painted an electric Tiffany blue, and there is a massive chalkboard menu with skillfully sketched portraits of, for unknown reasons, Bruce Lee, Ray Charles, Elvis Presley, Rod Stewart and Barack Obama, plus what may be some family members of this restaurant.
The people here are amazingly nice and helpful, gently admonishing you not to wait too long until you return.
A carafe of cucumber-infused water is brought to you, of which you will drink all. All the utensils and condiments are on your table in neat modern containers, including a brownish green hot sauce that is instantly vigorous but flavorful, and which returns again and again to visit you and remind you to drink all your water.
We have had nothing here that we haven't loved. The Crispy Veggie Egg Rolls are a good start, a septet of nicely fried cylinder halves in a formal dance around an understated dipping sauce. Glass noodles and black mushrooms make the taste clear and divine.
I do not typically order a Thai coconut soup, preferring other broths, and Bianca is usually a fan of udon while I am not, but the Tom Kha Udon is a convincing missionary. The noodles are of perfect consistency, not thick, spongy and elastic as often encountered. Big beautiful slabs of tofu can be hauled up with chopsticks.
The broth is superb, tiny islands of red and orange in a milky sea; it is hot, sour and balanced, with just enough bits of lemongrass for flavor without making it a sargasso of inedible parts. It gains complexity as the surface lowers.
Bianca: The further down this rabbit hole I go, the better it gets.
This, though, is the reason I come here. Their namesake, Wat Dong Moon Lek, is a beef noodle soup, which they have. They also have this pork interpretation of it. The scent alone is intoxicating, the intense broth a porky, salty wonder. The rice noodles are thin but not limp or fragile, rivaling the lusty comfort of ramen. Bean sprouts mix with the noodles, cooked until supple. The pork has a remarkable tenderness between brisket and goose liver, and provokes thought. Shreds of fresh and snarky green onion float around a single, perfect meatball.
We order both soups spicy, and add some of that hot sauce anyway, which nearly compels me to put my dark glasses on over my tear-stained eyes to hide my rookie status. They are, however, tears of joy, for this is a new lunchtime place for me.
A small plate of Hainan Chicken Rice will cure all your ailments. Steamed chicken slices, a sticky mound of garlic rice, and a spicy soy ginger sauce come with a cup of some of the best chicken broth I've tasted, transparent and subtle without a sodium smack.
The Yellow Curry Tofu is just plain well-constructed, generating a slow burn on the tongue. Dense, toothsome potatoes and carrots are cushioned by blocks of tofu, all soaking up a red-polka-dotted broth that turns a pleasing brownish yellow with a swirl of the spoon.
The Pad See Ew with Tofu is tofu blocks fried or soft, Chinese broccoli, and egg assembled over flat noodles. Normally flat noodles irritate me due to being a solid Cthulhoid mass of stuck-together noodles that you may as well use a knife on, but these are still supple and full of saucy flavor.
Besides the much-needed water, to drink there's chrysanthemum tea, but it's in bottles. Go for the Thai iced coffee, sweet and lush and tongue-coating.
Credit goes to Bianca here, for finding a corner advertisement in L.A. Weekly, stabbing it with a finger, and telling me it was time for lunch.
Wat Dong Moon Lek is cash only, and not bad pricewise. It's in a corner mall with fair parking.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Vegetarian/Vegan, Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Thai )
Welcome to another late-night episode of our "Hollywood with Andrew" series. We're hoping to expand this segment into something we'll regret in the morning.
Toi is self-billed as "Rockin' Thai Food," the kind of terminology that was still new back in '86 when it opened, but which too many trendy sushi joints have tried to emulate. Toi retains its seedy, rebellious, you-don't-know-where-she's-been demeanor.
Toi is as Hollywood-focused as Barney's Beanery, but with the decor applied with a twelve-gauge shotgun: posters of Hendrix, The Beatles, AC/DC, Marilyn Manson, and Björk, vintage concert flyers for The Clash and The Mothers of Invention, two Millenium Falcons and a T-47 Snowspeeder, and one fairly horrific, will-shatter-your-high blue cheshire dragon hovering over the cashier. You yell at your tablemates over the music as high-speed, black-shirted waitstaff dart between lacquered tables.
The Veggie Thai Egg Rolls with silver noodles are thumb-sized and fair enough, but not as conversation-worthy as the Fried Tofu, pillowy triangles of soy with a bit of edge; they soak up the peanut dipping sauce and are good for settling your friends into eating mode.
The soups come in those volcanic hot pot bowls which barely allow a large spoon to scrape up the contents. The Tom Yum Poh Tack somehow crams shrimp, scallops, mussels (sans shell), and fish into a tangy lime broth with hidden fiery pockets of ouch. Red pepper specks settle slowly to the bottom, to lurk and threaten. How do they get the squid so soft? There's almost none of that chewy springiness to it.
The Toi Pasta is a should-be-shared batch of pan-fried noodles, chicken, egg and bean sprouts, yet somehow yielding more than that basic foundation. The foursome, a high-meat/low-noodle ratio with a slight sweetness to the chicken, is a luxuriant meld with a hint of citrus. There's subtlety here, with less of that tongue-stinging spark of onion and cilantro prevalent in Californian Thai joints.
Departing utterly from that familiar spicy clearness of Thai, the Pad Poh Tack has fish, crab, shrimp, scallops and more of that startlingly soft squid combined in chili and garlic; the end result is quite "brown saucy" and full-bodied, most excellent for spooning over brown rice. The brown rice here is a deep, dark bird-kibble mound with more moisture than expected.
Toi is down the street from Cheebo, so you know parking can be found along Sunset if you're diligent. They're more expensive than most Thai places, but they're open until four in the morning every day (beer, wine and sake stops at midnight), so your tonight-was-a-good-gig Hollywood exploits still have a suitable destination.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Hollywood, Thai, Late Night/24 Hours )
I'm still unsure how to pronounce it
2606 W. Sunset Blvd. (@ Rampart Blvd.)
Phone: 213-353-9635 | map
This is a (not very) secret prize of the Silver Lake community, open until ten every night, available for those who like to come in and pick up a phoned-in order.
We like to eat in the dining room, under walls of pleasing colors: raspberry, yellow curry, pistachio, and sky blue. The tables have rich blue and gold fabric draped over them.
For Bianca, the go-to item on any Thai menu is Squid Salad, and this is one of her favorites. Cylinders of squid are hacked into pliancy, clean, clear and snappy in a lime and hot chili sauce that boasts a powerful scent. The cilantro and the onion (white, not red) are not too strong. Ordered medium spicy, it yields a subtle heat that kicks in when you try to speak.
Hello, you offer a lunch special that has pork and fried chicken? Oh, my, yes. Prik King is green beans coated in a red curry paste, a caress of ginger, garlic and lime that is not terribly spicy. The green beans are at that perfect point of a little snap without spilling open. The pork is slightly chewy, and actually takes a back seat to the chicken.
The Fried Chicken is something to get busy with. The skin is crispy to the nth degree, the meat juicy and billowing with steam, accomplished only as a result of using very hot oil. It's all presented with a standard steamed rice, useful mainly for soaking up extra Prik King curry paste.
The Shrimp Fried Rice is a heaping mound of perfectly rendered fried rice, reminding me of a neighboring Chinese family who used to whip up in a similar style; it's not too shrimpy, not too eggy, not inundated with soy sauce, and has a little pot-burn to add some gritty texture. The shrimp are flayed open and soft. You'll want to move the decorative planks of sliced cucumber and heavy tomato wedges out of the way.
This buries the needle on the New Addiction meter. The Fish Cake appetizer is a quintet of nearly burger-sized patties, dense, springy, almost balloon-like in texture, resistant to the fork but yielding to the knife. It almost doesn't need the dipping sauce, topped with sliced cucumber and chopped peanuts for contrasts. These are really, really good, and a staple of ours.
I've been on a duck kick lately, and I have a crush on the Duck Noodles, available dry or as a soup. The duck is rendered rich and softer than beef, laying atop bean sprouts and vibrant green rings of scallion. The bone-colored rice noodles (or egg noodles if you prefer them) resist the pull of the chopsticks. The broth is opaque and moody, not the clear shine of pho nor the pork-heavy comfort of ramen.
This is a small serving, by the way, and it still needs taking home as leftovers. This may be sacrilege, but cutting up one of the fish cakes and adding it to the duck noodle soup equals great fun for me.
The drinks are expected: a few good Thai beers, a sweetly bitter Thai Iced Coffee, and Thai Iced Tea.
Mae Ploy is one of those places that would be godlike in a neighborhood without the swarm of Thai joints as we have near us, and so is merely within the ruling class. The only negative reviews I've seen have been from people who order Pad Thai.
There may or may not be parking in back, but I've always managed to snag a spot along Sunset.
( Categories: Cuisines (by Region), Los Feliz/Silver Lake/Echo Park, Thai )