DTLA’s Esaan Thai Gets Me To Eat a Pad Thai Salad!?
Back in January I was pretty excited to read about a new Thai place Downtown called Esaan: A Taste of Thai. From the sounds of the Squid Ink article (which I now realize I might have only skimmed) it sounded like Essan would be perfect for Downtown lunchers who didn’t want to make the trek up the 101 to Thai Town. The name didn’t hurt either. I’m no expert on the regional cuisines of Thailand but “Esaan” sounds pretty authentic- right? Inclusion in Saveur’s 24 Hours of Thai Food in L.A. sealed the deal- I needed to check this place out.
Sadly, on my first visit I realized the truth. There is no mistaking Essan for a real taste of Thailand (or even Thai Town.) It’s a straight up fast casual sandwich and salad place that transforms Thai (and Vietnamese) dishes into yuppified lunches that would be deemed acceptable by the Downtown L.A. lunch crowd. Case in point? The “Pad Thai Salad”, a salad featuring “classic pad thai ingredients” tossed with spaghetti (yes, you read that right.) It could easily be considered an abomination, except for one thing. I kind of loved it.
Expect anything resembling pad thai from this dish and you’ll be pretty disappointed. But if the idea of a cold pasta salad with bean sprouts, peanuts, red cabbage, cilantro, and carrots sounds appealing to you, this is a good one. It’s also huge, and despite being referred to as a salad the container is super heavy. Definitely a filling lunch, and it’s only $8 if you get it with chicken or steak ($10 if you want it with shrimp.) My only complaint is with the dressing, which gets poured on with reckless abandon. Don’t get me wrong, it’s delicious (a very sweet and slightly spicy cross between peanut sauce and Vietnamese nuac chom) but there’s just too much of it. Half the amount, and it would be a perfectly dressed creation- so next time I’m asking for dressing on the side.
There are two sandwich options, which also benefit from curbed expectations. The satay sandwich and banh mi are both $7.50, both served on the same french bread, and both come with the same choice of protein (chicken or beef). The only difference seems to be the toppings? The satay sandwich is smeared with a peanut sauce, and topped with pickled daikon and carrots, while the banh mi comes topped with jalapenos and traditional banh mi pickled veggies. The sandwiches are pretty big for the price, the bread is good, and they are very tasty. But there are no cold cuts or pate, so if you’re looking for a more traditional banh mi you’d be better off going to Spice Table (or Chinatown.)
One of the smartest things about Esaan is the fact they keep things simple. 3 salads, 2 sandwiches and 2 hot dishes mean they can focus on making each item perfect. And for those who want to switch things up, there is a daily special available. The day we were there it was a Malaysian potato and chicken curry. A bit watery, but very flavorful.
All in all Esaan is a great new option for Downtown lunchers that kind of reminds of Starry Kitchen. Go in expecting a replacement for San Gabriel Valley, or the South Bay, or Thai Town, and you’ll likely end up disappointed. Go in expecting smart, delicious food that fits perfectly into your Downtown rotation between Mendocino Farms and Lemonade, and you’ll leave very happy.
Who knows… it might even convert you into the kind of person who would eat a “Pad Thai Salad” (provided you’re not already there.)
THE + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- There is no good Thai food in Downtown L.A. I’ll gladly take “Thai-ish”
- I love Asian flavored salads, and that Pad Thai salad definitely fits the bill
- I don’t care if it’s not authentic, their banh mi is really tasty (and also big!)
- I don’t mind paying a bit more for fresh and healthy ingredients
- Isaan is actually blend of Thai, Lao, Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines… so this place is totally authentic!
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Spice Table’s banh mi are *so* much better
- Might be fine for the salad and sandwich set, but it’s not going to be replacing my weekly lunch trip to Thai Town
- The dressing on the pad thai salad was a bit too sweet
- Where’s the papaya salad!?
- I was expecting something a bit less Downtown Lunch’y
Esaan: A Taste of Thai, 601 W. 5th St, 213-488-9995