Saturday, April 04, 2015

Lacha Somtum: the Thai Restaurant You Should be Going To

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.
mussel pancakes

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
All the familiar Thai dishes are on the menu here, but really, the reason to eat here is the Northern Thai salads and hotpots. Most of the dishes are just exotic enough to be exciting, without some of the more unusual ingredients found in some of the city’s uber-authentic Thai restaurants. If you try the Tom Yum Chicken Ovary, please report back, as I've yet to sample it. Spice levels are geared for Thais, so when in doubt, ask for mild.
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.

Lacha Somtum
5171 Hollywood Blvd.
(323) 486-7380

Lacha Somtum was reviewed in April's Los Feliz Ledger


Johnny L. said...

Its a shame they took off a lot of interesting things off the menu. They had a jungle curry with the unhatched chicken eggs and that was amazing. I noticed the menu was definitely truncated compared to last year to when I visited last month.

gourmetpigs said...

I don't mean to be a b* here, but .. aren't all eggs by definition unhatched? :P

tom said...

duck larb looks great