It’s been quite some time since I’ve driven up to LA for no reason other than to hit some of the spots I’ve had bookmarked for a while. I grab a friend and we head up to LA last weekend for a day of food crawling starting in downtown Los Angeles, at Pok Pok.
My friend has visited the original in Portland, and I have been longing to try it out for years, but have not had the chance to get up to Oregon. Therefore, when Andy Ricker opened Pok Pok Phat Thai in Chinatown, almost a year ago, it’s been on my list to try.
Pok Pok Phat Thai is a fast casual concept located inside a mall. There are many dishes to try, but since we are doing a crawl, we did not want to fill up at our first stop. We end up ordering the blackboard special Muu Kaphrao Khai Dao ($10.50), a dish I often make at home using ground pork and long beans. I love the sear on the pork, only possible with an extremely hot wok. The pork and long beans are stir fried with Thai basil (kaphrao), onions, black soy, fish sauce, garlic and dried chiles. A heaping scoop of jasmine rice is topped with a crispy fried egg — the way all of us Asians eat a sunny side up fried egg (Gordon Ramsey will kill you if you served him a sunny side up egg this way) with a brown, crispy bottom. I add some prik nam pla (chiles soaked in fish sauce) to kick up the heat level even more. It is delicious and mouth-wateringly good.
We also tried the Tamarind Vinegar Soda ($4) which was surprisingly good. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a photo of it.
Next, we move upstairs to Ramen Champ, another spot I have only seen friends check into on Facebook. The photos I’ve seen on social media stick in my mind. We arrive mid-afternoon and it is empty so we get a pick of the best counter seats in the house. I like to watch magic happen, and from where I am sitting, I get a full view of the chef preparing our dishes.
We order the Original Tonkotsu ($8.99) a rich and creamy broth with noodles, chashu, wood ear mushrooms, green onions and sesame oil. I liked the texture of the noodles as well as the flavor of the broth — not too salty.
However, it is the Tonkotsu Tan Tan ($9.99) which blows our minds. Using a thicker noodle than the Original, this bowl offers the same broth, but includes chile and hot meat sauce (tan tan) as well as Sichuan peppercorns and garlic. Add a soft Seasoned Farm Egg for $1.25 extra. It is really REALLY good.
I’m a huge fan of chicken karaage, so when the menu offers Fried Chicken Karaage for a mere $3.49 with an order of ramen, I do not hesitate (normally $4,99). Two HUGE drumsticks arrive scorching hot and coated with a made-from-scratch sweet and sour sauce. It is difficult to maneuver. I ask for a knife and fork to cut pieces off. It is decent, but not exceptional.
Next, we head over to Silverlake as I have had Night + Market Song bookmarked forever. Of course it is not open yet, so we hang out at Haché LA across the street where my friend orders the Karma Burger combo with the works! Haché LA is the Los Angeles sister of Mick’s Karma Bar in OC. It is one of THE best burger spots in the county and has won two Golden Foodie Awards in the Best Burger category. I’m saving space for Thai so I do not eat any of this.
But before we head across the street, we go up the road to Pine and Crane where my friend purchases some Mapo Tofu to go.
We are lucky to find parking right outside Night + Market Song, but the restaurant is packed. Luckily, we only wait about three minutes before we are seated.
There is a lot on the menu, and items that are very different to regular Thai cuisine you’ll find at restaurants in southern California. I recognize some of the street food items from visits to Thailand, but there is a lot I am unfamiliar with. We peek at what those around us are eating and also, with help from Yelp, we choose three dishes to share.
The first item is Khao Soi Jay ($14 ข้าวซอยเจ) a bowl of curried noodles which we are very familiar with. But like any dish typically found in Asia, there are many versions of the same dish. Here, the khao soi uses flat rice noodles instead of egg noodles, which is found in Lao cuisine, as well as the northern most areas of Thailand. It makes sense since on the menu, it reads “mae sai curried noodles” which simply states the noodles are from Mae Sai, a district in Chiang Rai province bordering Burma (I still can’t bring myself to say Myanmar). Khao soi reminds me of one of my favorite childhood dishes — laksa.
There are four khao soi options on the menu and we select the vegetarian option with tofu, oyster mushroom & homemade nam prik khao soi, which is explained as a chile jam but is more so a roasted chile paste than jam since it isn’t sweet. I always prefer egg noodles over rice noodles — it’s a textural thing — and these are sitting in very little “soup” and are hard to maneuver. The minute we try to pick them up with chopsticks they break apart. The flavor is decent, but it is rather frustrating not being able to eat noodles the way it is intended.
Hor Ab ($13 ห่อแอบปลา) or catfish tamale, is not exactly a tamale in that there is no starch. The catfish is wrapped inside a banana leaf with pork fat chiles and herbs, then baked. This is another instance where many variants of the same dish is served in neighboring southeast Asian countries. This particular dish is reminiscent of Lao mok pa. I am a little disappointed at its one dimensional flavor considering there is a lot of herbs enveloping the fish. I can’t put my finger on it, but something is missing. The flavor is flat. I take the leftovers home and the following day, I added a little nam pla, or fish sauce, and reheated. That’s exactly what was missing, just that hint of salty umami.
Moo Sadoong ($9 หมูสะดุ้ง) , or ‘startled pig’ ($9) is packed with flavor from basil, lemongrass, garlic, fish sauce, lime, chile, a whole lot of scallions and cilantro. The pork is grilled with a good char, but there is a lot of gristle. The spice level is awesome — well, for me at least — and makes my mouth pucker with the perfect amount of tartness.
If you’re looking for something different from the usual Thai cuisine you’ll find at every other Thai restaurant, then Night + Market Song is the place to go. The menu is predominantly Thai street food, and while the dishes might not all be winners, it’ll definitely be an adventure for your palate you won’t readily find elsewhere.
Pok Pok Phat Thai
727 N Broadway Ste 130
Los Angeles, CA 90012
727 N Broadway
Los Angeles, CA 90012
3319 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Night + Market Song
3322 W Sunset Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90026
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