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Wat Dong Moon Lek: Finally! Really good Thai food in Silver Lake

There are days when I wish I lived anywhere but LA. I can't face the traffic battle to my job in Beverly Hills, can't stand the looks from women with Botox-frozen faces and their tiny dogs, can't fight the tide of noisepeoplesmogmallscarsbillboardsmoney. It makes me want to find a small cabin in the woods and move right in.

But then I go somewhere like Wat Dong Moon Lek, a new Thai restaurant just a few blocks from my house, and remember there are no Thai noodles in the woods. It's a major flaw in my plan.

Wat Dong Moon Lek has been open for a few months, but since a write-up in the LA Times last week, business has exploded. I stopped by with my friend Jessica, who has been talking to me about the place for several weeks, and the owner immediately recognized her and greeted us warmly. "You came here even before the article!" she told Jessica. On this Tuesday night all the tables were full, but service was speedy and exceptionally attentive.

I had to get the rambutan salad, cool slippery orbs of fruit dressed with coconut milk and garnished with sesame seeds, sliced onions, Thai chilis and cooked shrimp. Rambutans are a pink, prickly-skinned, lychee-like fruit which I don't think I've ever even seen in the U.S., let alone eaten in a salad that so expertly balances the sweet and the savory. Tiny explosions of nuttiness and heat went off in my mouth as I chewed, the sweet rambutan flesh mingling with the salty coconut milk, and I was reminded of how when I was growing up my dad would fill a plate with sliced pineapple from the salad bar at Sizzler and eat it dipped in salt. Sweet, salty, sour -- it's a synergy even my nine-year-old self appreciated, though I still found the whole pineapple-with-salt thing super weird.

We both got small bowls of the restaurant's namesake noodles with beef, surprisingly large portions of medium-rare meat, rice stick noodles and bean sprouts swimming in beefy broth, garnished with thinly sliced lettuce and a sprinkle of white pepper. The broth tasted familiar though I had never before eaten this style of noodle soup, which is the specialty of a particular shop adjacent to a temple in Bangkok. I realized it reminded me of beef Cup Noodles, which sounds terrible but listen! Obviously the fresh broth in Wat Dong Moon Lek's noodle soup is worlds away from the thin, sad stuff you find in a paper-topped cup, with a body and intensity Nissin could never replicate, but to tell you the truth I loved beef Cup Noodles as a kid. And these noodles are like the grown-up version I never knew existed.

I had wanted to round out the meal with khao man gai, Thailand's version of Hainanese chicken rice, but they had already run out so we ordered chile peppercorn with pork, tender pieces of meat in a dry red curry speckled with Thai basil leaves and a branch of soft green peppercorns. Each mouthful was a spicy, balanced blast of flavor and I found myself picking out the peppercorns to nibble on even after I was full.

Linda Burum's description of the sophisticated dessert offerings had my betsu-bara rumbling, but unfortunately they had run out of dessert so I had to content myself with the icy dregs of my refreshing, not-too-sweet coconut smoothie.

I couldn't be happier to finally have a good Thai place in Silver Lake. A GOOD Thai place with inventive food, friendly service and an exuberant turquoise interior complete with colorful chalkboard pictures of Obama and Elvis. The LA Times coverage has the small space bursting at the seams right now and a midweek visit is the way to go, but hopefully things will settle down soon. I'll be checking back for khao man gai and desserts next week.

('s cash only, so bring your Hamiltons.)

Wat Dong Moon Lek
4356 Fountain Ave
Los Angeles, CA 90029
(323) 666-5993

Photos and full review here:

Front Page Jamaican Grille: way better than plane food

I'm sorry to hear you had a bad experience! I can't speak for the size of the servings (we were happy with the amount of food we got with our order), but I do know they purposely do not make the food very spicy, but leave it up to the diner to spice up each dish with their homemade hot sauce.

Front Page Jamaican Grille: way better than plane food

People, there's no reason to ever eat crappy food on an airplane again. Front Page Jamaican Grille is less than 3 miles from LAX, so an extra 30 minutes and a short trip down Manchester is all that stands between you and a container full of curry goat or oxtails or jerk chicken with a side of rice and beans. Doesn't that sound better than a soggy $8 turkey sandwich wrapped in plastic? I thought so.

I was lucky enough to be invited to a lunch at Front Page Grille last weekend by an intrepid eater named Josie, whom I met the last time I visited Breed Street in Boyle Heights. She, Javier, Jessica and I met at the restaurant, just a counter and a few tables in a small space painted a dazzling green, tucked into a nondescript strip mall in Inglewood. It is, as Javier put it, like sitting inside a giant Jamaican flag.

We started with a couple appetizers. Vegetable patties, which were like savory handpies stuffed with spinach, are not made on the premises but produced in some other magical Jamaican patty location where the crusts are always flaky and the fillings never soggy. Festival bread was like an unsweetened, slightly dense donut hole, proof that fried dough is the right way to start any meal.

I had been 30 minutes late (navigating tip: Manchester Avenue is not the same as Manchester Boulevard, although the two do eventually meet), so by the time I arrived the others had already put in an order for the roasted perch, which takes 30-40 minutes to prepare. It is well worth the wait, even if you do spend most of the time driving up and down an abandoned block of Manchester Avenue wondering if the restaurant is behind a car wash maybe. Our foil-wrapped fish was brought to the table by John, the chef and co-owner, who has a smile as bright as his green-painted walls. The steaming fish was buried under a pile of chopped cabbage and peppers, totally unphotogenic but completely delicious, the whole mess fragrant with jerk spices and tender enough to cut with a plastic fork. John says the roasted fish is a favorite among the ladies, but he doesn't know why. Gentlemen, get on board. You're missing out.

We loaded up our "plates" (actually opened-up takeout containers -- it's kind of awesome) with fish, rice and beans, sticky green okra pods and sweet slices of plantain. The jerk goat was coal-black with a wonderful chew and the oxtails fell apart with the tap of a plastic tine. Nothing was particularly spicy until topped with a little of the homemade hot sauce, a slurry of Scotch bonnet peppers that made my lips tingle. The plainness of the vegetables, boiled and only lightly seasoned, offered an occasional break from the complex spicing of the meats.

The drinks at Front Page Grille are as intriguing and authentic as the food. Pine ginger beer's spicy bite was tempered by its subtle pineapple sweetness. Cran moss is a bizarre mix of cranberry juice and Irish moss, a.k.a. carrageen moss, a sort of seaweed that lends a slightly gelatinous texture that was certainly unique, but not exactly thirst-quenching. For that, I turned to my favorite of the day, the sorrel drink. Brewed from hibiscus flowers, it is basically like jamaica, but imagine the most perfect jamaica ever, one that is not tooth-achingly sweet but instead slightly tart, like a well-made lemonade. I could drink buckets of this.

We finished the meal with a couple slices of carrot cake -- really more of a carrot pudding, dense with shredded carrots and barely sweet. When we told Pam, the other owner, that we liked it, she seemed baffled but pleased to hear someone enjoyed her husband's latest creation. "He never tells me what he's going to make," she said. "He just tells me what it is when he's done."

The vibe is mellow, the music is good, the service is friendly and the whole place reminds you why LA is a great place to live -- because if you don't have time to pick up some cheap and authentic Jamaican food on the way out of town, you can always get it when you return. Just make sure your ride doesn't mind taking a little detour on the way home from the airport.

Photos of the food and more at:

Front Page Jamaican Grille
1117 W Manchester Blvd, Inglewood, CA 90301

Yu Chun: for all your cold Korean noodle needs this summer

Thanks for the tip! I'll have to check that place out.

Yu Chun: for all your cold Korean noodle needs this summer

I don't know how I ever survived childhood summers in the sunbaked San Gabriel Valley without the help of mool naeng myun. A cold Korean noodle soup anchored by in an intensely flavorful, slightly tart beef broth and garnished with kimchee, shredded vegetables, a couple slices of meat and a handful of ice, it is both refreshing and fortifying. Like taking a cold shower while eating a pastrami sandwich, but not as soggy.

Though it's not quite chilled noodle weather yet here in LA, I asked Marie of the food blog Starchy Marie, a fellow naeng myun lover, to suggest a good place when we met for lunch. She came up with Yu Chun in Koreatown, a restaurant known for its naeng myun made with chewy black arrowroot noodles (called chik naeng myun in Korean) and gigantic dumplings (mandu).

Marie confessed later that she was worried I would get to the restaurant ahead of her and they wouldn't know what to do with me since I don't speak Korean. But the guy who greeted me in Korean at the door just waved me toward a table near the kitchen and a few minutes later dropped two menus in front of me with a thwap. Marie arrived shortly after and ordered for us in Korean (two bowls of chik naeng myun, one order of super-sized dumplings), but the menu is translated and has pictures, so even the Korean-challenged should be fine.

The mandu were as big as tennis balls, soft, elastic tennis balls filled with a flavorful mince of pork and kimchee. Wrangling one into my mouth bite by bite took all my chopstick skills, but was well worth the challenge.

And then there was the naeng myun. Served in big metal bowls kissed with condensation, the ice-flecked broth held julienned cucumbers, some sliced beef and a bright red dollop of chili paste. We added a squirt of vinegar and stirred, revealing the translucent black noodles and ribbons of pickled zucchini. Marie said she had been worried the arrowroot noodles would be too chewy, but because they were so thin, like soba noodles stretched to twice their length, it was never a problem.

The soul of any noodle soup is its broth and Yu Chun's is good enough to make it through the pearly gates, no problem. Lurking below its vinegar bite and slow chili burn is a beefiness of staggering depth. I would have drained the bowl, but I had to leave room for our post-lunch visit to Scoops. Also, I already had two tennis balls of dumpling in my belly.

Were it possible to fill a swimming pool with Yu Chun's naeng myun, I would spend the summer happily paddling past crunchy vegetables and slippery noodles, gulping down icy broth for sustenance. Until I figure out the mechanics, I'll just settle for lunch once in awhile.

Full review with photos here:

Yu Chun Chic Naeng Myun
3185 W Olympic Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90006

ISO Organic/Heirloom Seedlings!

You should definitely check out one of the Tomatomania events if you want to plant some heirloom tomato varieties. I visited their booth at the LA Garden Show last year and took home a Sunsugar and Black Krim. Both produced amazing tomatoes all summer!

LA without a car!

An easy way to get to Union Station, which is the hub of public transit in LA, is to take the Flyaway bus between LAX and the Union Station bus depot. It costs $6 each way, runs every 30 mins and is quick, direct and clean. (So unlike most LA public transit....) From Union Station you can easily take the Metro all over downtown LA and Hollywood, if you're planning on eating in either area.

Simple, satisfying lunch at Stories Bookstore

I know it’s impolite, but eating and reading go hand and hand for me. No matter how many times my mom squawked “No reading at the dinner table!” when I was a kid, I just couldn’t kick the habit, which I’m pretty sure is lifelong. That’s why I was so glad to hear that Stories, the new bookstore in Echo Park, has a cafe serving sandwiches, pastries and coffee right next to their shelves of new and used books.

The menu is simple: pastries, bagels (from Brooklyn Bagels) with a choice of spreads, a small selection of sandwiches, freshly-made soups and a few sides like hummus and couscous salad. There are coffee and espresso drinks made with Raven’s Brew coffee and a few sodas. The cheerful blackboard menu promises that all produce comes from the Echo Park and Atwater Village farmers markets and that the coffee is freshly roasted in Los Angeles.

The cafe is at the back of the store and offers a long narrow table alongside the cookbooks where patrons can sit and eat, but you can also settle at one of the tables near the front window or in the back patio, an alleyside space spruced up by a large mural and a smattering of plants.

I stopped by on a gray, chilly day and was craving some soup, but unfortunately the vegetable soup wasn’t yet ready, so I opted for a cup of veggie chili and the dill tuna sandwich. Both were simple and totally satisfying. The chili was chunky and only mildly spiced, with a pure, clean flavor and interesting mix of textures. All the bread at Stories comes from Breadbar, so it’s no surprise the star of the tuna sandwich was the rye bread, served lightly toasted, a perfect blend of crisp and chewy with a very mild rye flavor. The presentation of the food — cup of soup, sliced sandwich, pickle spear and spoon on a square white plate — was straightforward and pleasing, like the meal itself.

The only downside to the meal was the service, which was slightly awkward and not entirely welcoming, but that will hopefully improve with time. Despite that, Stories is a welcome addition to the neighborhood, a place where no one will look at you twice for oh-so-rudely reading while you eat.

More pics at

Stories Books & Cafes
1716 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90026

All-butter puff pastry source?

I'm on the hunt for a place selling ALL BUTTER puff pastry near Silver Lake. Sorry to yell at you there, but all the stuff I've found so far has been made with partially hydrogenated oils, including many of the places mentioned in this thread:

The Trader Joes's in Silver Lake says it's a seasonal item, the Gelson's only carries Peppridge Farm (no butter) and Super King has an extensive collection...of no-butter puff pastry. Nicole's in South Pas is a little out of the way for me. Does anyone know of a TJ's that keeps it in stock year-round or another source? I work in Beverly Hills, so locations further west are OK as well.

Thanks, fellow bakers!

Silver Lake Taco Quagmire

I agree with your El Charrito assessment -- the tortillas seem to be the most notable part of the experience. I think that might be your best bet in the area (although I do really like Best Fish Taco, arm hair be damned). The only other place I've tried along that stretch of Virgil is the cart that appears at night in the parking lot of a laundromat a few blocks north of El Charrito. Sadly, it's not that great.

Local in Silver Lake

Thanks for the report. I live really close by and am definitely looking forward to trying it out. I love the idea of a make-your-own Arnold Palmer station!

Khun Dom, Isaan-style Thai in Hollywood (Review w/ pics)

Renu Nakorn has been on my to-go list for ages, but I've yet to make it. From everything I've heard, the Isaan is likely as good or better than Khun Dom.

I like the Isaan salads at Ruen Pair and Ganda, but being able to get the whole experience -- the amazing sticky rice, the greens -- at Khun Dom really elevated the meal for me.'ve made me want to do an Isaan dining tour around LA!

Khun Dom, Isaan-style Thai in Hollywood (Review w/ pics)

Isaan, the northeastern region of Thailand, is the poorest area of the country, beset by droughts, floods and depleted soil, making for a hard-scrabble life as far as eating goes.

Yet somehow the food is seriously great. Isaan cuisine is more sour and spicy than what is found in nearby Central Thailand. Som tam (green papaya salad) -- a.k.a. the dish I'd most like to be stranded on a desert island with -- is from Isaan, where it is served with sticky rice rather than the usual steamed jasmine rice. Sticky rice is the staple crop I'd learn to grow on my island, in case you didn't know. If it wasn't for the whole girls-getting-married-when-they're-as-young-as-14-for-the-dowry thing, I'd wish I had been born in Isaan, so I could have spent as many years as possible eating the food.

So I was excited for Khun Dom, a Thai restaurant in a barren region of Melrose, an area beset by graffiti, exhaust and generally awful traffic, making for a hard-scrabble life as far as eating goes. The place secretly specializes in Isaan-style salads, a fact apparently unknown to most of the patrons, who load their tables with pad Thai, fried wontons and the other usual Thai menu suspects.

With that in mind, Rob and I ordered three salads: beef nam tok (grilled beef salad), nam kao tod (pork and crispy rice salad) and som tam with dried shrimp, along with the essential sticky rice. After the rice arrived, wrapped neatly in foil, the beef nam tok appeared, accompanied by a plate of Thai basil, Chinese long beans, cabbage and other greens -- the perfect thing to munch on between fiery bites of beef. (It wasn't until my first visit to Thailand that I realized why my dad used to often chow down on, say, a fourth of a head of cabbage alongside his stir-fry and rice. I always just thought he really liked cabbage.) The nam tok ended up being Rob's favorite dish, the grilled beef dripping with spicy lime dressing and meaty juices.

The nam kao tod was the highlight of the meal for me -- I loved the gingery bite and the slick, crispy bits of rice -- but what made it even better was following up each mouthful with a chomp of fresh greens and a chunk of perfectly cooked sticky rice. Isaan synergy! The rice was a restaurant sticky rice revelation, delicately chewy, without the unfortunate soggy spots often found at the bottom of bowl.

The only disappointment was the som tam, which was overly sweet and not spicy at all. Next time I'll try the blue crab som tam instead of the dried shrimp.

There's no alcohol on the menu, but I bought a beer at the shady liquor store next door, which the waitress kindly opened for me and poured into a frosty glass. Sitting in Khun Dom sipping a cold beer and munching on nam kao tod and greens could almost make me forget I didn't go to Thailand with my sisters this summer. I'll just pretend it's my own Isaan desert island.

Full review with a couple more pictures here:

(The place also apparently goes by the name Khun Dang.


Khun Dom
4681 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029

Lamb and Pork Goodness! :) - El Huarache Azteca [Review] w/ Pics!

I'm also a fan of the huarache adobada, but I definitely need to return and try the lamb. Also, the agua de pepino sounds amazing -- do you know if they rotate their aguas frescas offerings or is that one always on the menu?