What if one of the best Thai restaurants in Los Angeles opened in Hollywood, but hardly anyone realized it?
Lacha Somtum has been quietly rolling along for about a year now, while trendier Thai restaurants in Silver Lake and Chinatown get all the attention.
The restaurant attracted a small flurry of write-ups, mostly for its specialty in more than a dozen types of somtum, the tangy, spicy Northern Thai papaya salad. But the Thai Town restaurant, which is typically deserted around 7 p.m. (presumably it gets busier later on), is far more than just a papaya salad gimmick spot with plenty of other dishes that put twists on traditional Isaan cuisine.
|Papaya salad with black crab, Thai eggplant|
But first, the papaya salad: Green papayas aren’t sweet like their orange relatives. Shredded with tart lime juice dressing, the salads are a refreshing – although still spicy — counterpart to hot soups and curries. The usual preparation combines crushed peanuts, fresh chilies, long beans and dried shrimp or fresh crab. Here you can add salted egg, crispy pork, clear noodles, Thai eggplant or ground catfish to the fiery mix. Some don’t even have papaya at all, but instead offer corn, mango or fruit salad instead of the shredded fruit.
|Kon Kaen-style duck larb|
Besides papaya salad, one of the other mainstays of the Laos-adjacent Isaan region is larb, a salad based on ground meat mixed with chilies, lemongrass and lime juice. Crispy fried larb -- ground pork patties stuffed with cilantro, chilies, rice powder and lime juice -- are a terrific way to start a meal. For something a little less fried, the tangy duck larb is a must and is rounded out by roasted rice powder to create a flavor bomb of staggering proportions that ranks with the year’s best dishes.
|nam kha tood - crispy rice salad|
Crispy rice salad isn’t easy to find on typical menus, so by all means try Nam Kha Tood, where puffed crispy rice throws a wildly flavored party with ginger, chile, peanuts, ground pork and green onion. Silver Lake’s Night + Market’s version might be a bit better balanced, but this version draws no complaints.
Northern Thai isn’t really about noodles, so while the special crab pad thai is solid — if a little too sweet — take this chance to explore other areas of Thai food, like the hot pots bursting with giant prawns and tiny squid in a lemongrass-perfumed broth.
If you’re eating with several people, try yet another deep-fried indulgence: mussel pancakes — a mild and crispy mountain of battered mollusks baked into an egg base, topped with bean sprouts. Eat it right away for maximum enjoyment.
|crispy fried pork larb patties|
Open for lunch until midnight, the restaurant is usually practically empty earlier in the evening, making it a good choice for groups or a spontaneous meal. Delivery is available but many of the deep-fried dishes will work much better eaten on site.
5171 Hollywood Blvd.
Lacha Somtum was reviewed in April's Los Feliz Ledger.