Following “The Guru” to Khao Soi Heaven
I thought long and hard what my first lunch in L.A. would be. In Midtown it was this place called Hing Won, and it epitomized everything about what a perfect Midtown Lunch should be. So I wanted my first lunch here to be just as special. Street food? An all you can eat buffet? French dip? So many options. And then I saw this on Squid Ink. When asked by a reader where she could find the best khao soi in L.A., “The Guru” (aka Jonathan Gold) pointed her towards Spicy BBQ- a Northern Thai restaurant on Santa Monica and Normandie, on the outskirts of Thai Town.
I’ve been a big khao soi fan ever since trying it for the first time a few years ago in a Chiang Mai night market. You don’t see it too often in American Thai restaurants because it is exclusively a Northern Thai dish, and most restaurants here don’t serve dishes from the north. I had actually never tried (or even heard of) khao soi before seeing it being eaten by others in that night market, and my wife had to use the patented finger pointing ordering system to get us a bowl.
I found a decent version in Midtown, but it was a far cry from the original (isn’t it always?) and I was pretty excited to see if L.A. could do any better. (Spoiler Alert: It can, and it does.)
During my last stint I lived in Thai Town for two years, practically walking distance from this place and am ashamed that I never ate there. Of course my priorities were different back then. The 2005 me was more interested in seeing a Thai dude doing Elvis covers. The 2010 me wants khao soi.
There is plenty to be skeptical about at Spicy BBQ. The front of take out menu touts Thai *and* Chinese food (usually a bad sign), and the regular menu is chock full of photos (also can be a bad sign.) Plus the first 2/3 of the menu can likely be ignored. Just skip to the back section, with the Northern Thai specialties.
The khao soi at Spicy BBQ was as close a version to what I ate in Chiang Mai as I’ve ever had… and was as good a Thai food dish as I’ve had in I don’t know how long. The creamy, spicy base. The noodles. The red onions, lime, and pickled veggies. And the best part…a nest of crunchy egg noodles piled on top. The only thing that wasn’t perfect was the chicken, which is the standard slices of chicken weirdness (I’m pretty sure it was dark meat) that you get in most of the Thai restaurants that dot Hollywood Boulevard to the NW of Spicy BBQ. It tasted good to me, but those who prefer “white meat” probably won’t be down.
I needed to try a second dish (you know… for “work”) so I took a quick glance at The Guru’s review from 2008, which was hanging on the wall (natch.) Pork patties seemed like the safe choice, so instead I went with the pork salad (see Mom, I’ll eat salad!) which T.G. called “spectacular”. After a few bites it’s hard to disagree, with my favorite part being the crispy pork bits and slices of fried liver that topped the dish. Not necessarily because they tasted amazing (although I do enjoy my offal) but more because they were there. So much ethnic food gets dumbed down for the American palate these days, I find it refreshing to find a place cooking the food they want to cook- regardless of who ends up eating it. I like that they didn’t “warn” me, or even think that I wouldn’t want slices of fried liver. So great.
Well needless to say I don’t think I could have had a better first lunch. Spicy BBQ really kicked things off right for me… It probably helps that the Thai food in Midtown Manhattan is completely terrible, but I’m guessing it would fare just as well being eaten by someone who just stepped off a flight from Thailand.
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I freaking love khao soi, and this is a great version of khao soi
- They don’t hold back on the spice
- I love me some offal, and the spicy pork salad comes topped with fried bits of pork skin and slices of liver
T’HE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- What’s khao soi? I want Pad Thai!
- I like my chicken on the bone…
- I had far better versions of Khao Soi in Thailand
Spicy BBQ, 5101 Santa Monica Blvd. (on Normandie), 323-663-4211