Westside Thai With A Delightful Zest

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Always on the lookout for a westside Thai fix similar to what we find in Thai Town, we visited Tuk Tuk Thai and were pleasantly surprised. Located on Pico near Robertson, the small eatery has been in business for 15 years and continues to innovate with a mix of traditional Thai and health conscious leanings.

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The dining room is a bright and pleasant respite from the daily grind and LA traffic.

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Starters include a crab roll which incorporates a melange of ground chicken, crab meat, carrot, cabbage and black mushroom into a won ton skin before deep frying to a crisp golden hue.

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On the plate are lettuce leaves, carrot and mint which can be used to wrap the egg roll prior to dipping in the sweet accompanying sauce. This results in an exciting mix of cool against warm, sweet against savory and smooth interior against crunchy exterior.

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The Thai curry dumplings are steamed and filled with scallop and shrimp that float in a luxurious green curry sauce.

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These luscious bundles of well balanced ingredients provide an etherial experience.

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One of our favorite dishes is the pula goong. The quintessential refreshing salad dresses grilled shrimp, grape tomatoes, dark greens, red and green onion, lemongrass, mint and kaffir lime leaves in a high-spirited, garlic and chili laced dressing that satisfies completely.

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Don’t forget to check out the wall board of daily specials that list standouts as well as seasonal specialties. We are looking forward to their Valentines and Songkran (Thai New Year’s) offerings.

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No Thai meal feels complete to us without a curry, and Tuk Tuk’s gaeng keow wan green curry is made with the protein of customers choice. We went with the tender white meat chicken, which basks in its curry bath alongside thai eggplant and an abundance of fragrant basil for a spicy, slightly sweet, creamy dish that is ideal over rice.

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Health conscious guests will want to take a look at the seafood specialty section of the menu.

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The pla rad prik is a crispy whole fish in a spicy, tomatoey, curry sauce topped with fresh chili and crispy thai basil.

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Vibrant heat and a profusion of herbs complements the mild, white flesh of the pomfret.

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They are more than happy to help dissect fish from bone or customers can have a go at it themselves. For those not wanting to fuss with their seafood, the pad ped tally sautés shrimp, scallops, calamari and white fish with fresh chili, lesser ginger, lime leaf, green peppercorn and thai basil for an ocean extravaganza that is both healthy and delicious.

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A beer and wine license means Thai beer and soju based cocktails abound.

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We prefer to end all our Thai dinners with the famous seasonal dessert, mango sticky rice. But when mango is out of season, our sweet tooth is quenched by an ultra creamy, coconut ice cream served atop sweet red bean and sprinkled with crushed roasted peanuts for a cool, smooth finish to the meal.

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For westside Thai that stays true to the flavors, herbs and spice of the cuisine, a visit to Tuk Tuk Thai satisfies and saves time by relieving us of a rush hour trek to Hollywood’s Thai Town.

Tuk Tuk Thai, 8875 West Pico Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90035
Phone – 310-860-1872          web site – tuktukthaila.com

New Ramen House In Torrance

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Hakata Ikkousha of Costa Mesa has opened a new branch in Torrance that dishes out steaming bowls of their award winning ramen. Already a hit in the new location, we arrived shortly before closing to a full house.

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Their pork rich soup is a combination of broth enhanced by bones simmered for at least half a day, chewy noodles cooked to customers specifications, marinated pork slices and a blend of soy sauce, 20 seasonings and 5 types of rare seafood from Japan.

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The appetizer menu lists the Japanese delicacies of gyoza (pan fried dumplings) and fried chicken.

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The tiny, flavor packed, juicy dumplings come with a small dollop of chili paste that can be smeared on, with or without dipping into the gyoza sauce found on the table.

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Crisp-skinned fried chicken pieces encase moist meat that can be enhanced by the seasoning salt served alongside.

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We were excited to get to the main attraction, with a variety of ramen bowls calling to us.

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We like intense flavors and were immediately drawn to the tonkotsu black, a creamy pork soup made with mild garlic oil, noodles, homemade charshu (marinated braised pork belly), wood ear mushrooms and green onion. The broth has a mild garlic flavor, which we kicked up a notch with a ball of spicy paste available upon request.

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Each ramen listed has its high points. The Spicy tonkotsu mentaiko is unique to this ramen shop, the tonkotsu shio is light and clean, enlivened with black pepper in a fish broth while the tonokotsu original is their signature bowl.

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We couldn’t resist the God fire, delivered at levels of spiciness from 1 to 4.  We chose 2, which has a nice mellow heat plus tender fatty slices of pork belly, green onion, wood ear mushrooms and we ordered our noodles medium, versus hard or soft.

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One of the best parts of the dining experience at Hakata Ikkousha Ramen is the assortment of condiments on the table. We needed instruction on how to use the sesame seed dispenser but got the hang of turning the knob while holding the bottle over our bowl which grinds and dispenses the tiny crushed seeds.

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Our favorite condiment is the pickled spicy greens that can be eaten straight or added to the soup for extra heat and flavor.

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We throw the pungent ginger slivers into our bowl by the heapful, for a clean tang to balance out the fat in the broth.

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For a light, well seasoned version of ramen served with an assortment of Japanese condiments, Hakata Ikkousha Ramen brings it all, making us feel like we are in a small shop in Japan.

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Hakata Ikkousha Ramen, 21605 South Western Avenue, Suite J, Torrance, CA 90501                     Phone – 424-558-3953

or

Hakata Ikkousha, 3033 Bristol Street, Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Phone – 714-540-2066

Enchanting Westside Mexican Moles

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Juquila on Santa Monica Boulevard, is our westside mole spot. The time consuming Mexican dish is a reduction of a laundry list of ingredients, with each chef introducing their personal vision into the mix of chiles, nuts, spices, bread, fruit, vegetables and up to 100 ingredients, if you believe some of the legends.

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Juquila serves the food of Oaxaca in a narrow space with relaxing, warm, sunny, terra cotta colored walls and patterned booths.

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Everyone gets to sample the red mole drizzled on fresh tortilla chips, because they are delivered complementary to the table as guest settle in.

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The chips come with a spicy salsa that adds a nice kick to the starter.

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We were so enthralled with the red mole that we had to order a side of the rich, sweet, spicy, thick and complex sauce to submerge our chips.

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We ordered their cinnamon tea while dipping the crisp tortilla chips into our tongue teasing, flavor packed, red mole and perused the menu for dinner options.

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The red mole was so satisfying we had to order the mole negro or black mole. There are at least 7 types of Oaxacan Mole with the most well known being the black because of it’s enhancement with rich, bitter-sweet dark chocolate that adds significant excitement to the sweet, nutty, roasted, and bitter flavors.

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We stirred our white rice into the inky sauce and then pulled off pieces of the tender dark meat chicken and rolled them in the corn tortillas provided, creating a soft  black mole taco that brought joy to our hearts and palates.

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We strongly recommend trying their moles but there are also flavorful bowls of chicken and beef soup, burritos, tacos and some traditional, hard to find, Oaxaquina dishes such as tlayudas, large corn tortillas covered in toppings and resembling a pizza.

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Completing our meal with a thick, creamy slice of flan was just the ticket. We are always thrilled to have a wide variety of regional cuisines to savor locally and since its not always convenient to travel to East LA for some of the best Mexican food Los Angeles has, it’s nice to know we can find reliable and delicious alternatives that have been thriving on the westside for decades.

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Juquila Restaurant, 11619 Santa Monica Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90025
Phone – 310-312-1079         web site – restaurantejuquila.com

Ecstasy Inducing Thai Papaya Salad

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Ruen Pair, is one of the old timers in Thai Town for good reason, they have remained dedicated to the flavors of Thailand. Everytime we return we are pleasantly surprised by the freshness, quality and intense Thai spices, curries, herbs and seasoning that transform their dishes into heaven on a plate.

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Open from 11 AM to 3 AM everyday of the week, they give us lots of opportunities to immerse ourselves into the joys only an accomplished Thai chef can deliver.

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An extensive menu covers a wide variety of diverse classics starting with their beverage page that offers exotic hot and cold delights.

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We can’t resist the Thai Ice Coffee which is not as sweet as Thai ice tea and delivers a seriously creamy coffee punch.

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Jet Tila, the Thai and Chinese food aficionado, declares Ruen Pair as the place to get the best Papaya salad in Los Angeles and we are going to second that declaration.

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No matter how we order the shredded green fruit masterpiece it always tickles our tastes buds in ways that thrill and excite us. A slightly sweet, savory, spicy, combination of green papaya and secret ingredients makes this multi-nuanced salad hit the tongue and back of the throat with more refreshing surprises than we ever expect.

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It can be ordered with or without dried shrimp, salty black crab or raw crab and is always a winner. We requested it this time sans shellfish and it was perfect with lots of crunchy, roasted peanuts playing against the snap of crisp papaya slivers in a dressing that is truly miraculous.

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By no means is Ruen Pair a one trick pony, there is considerably more that shines here. The pad kee mao, also known as drunken noodles, are broad noodles stir fried with chili, basil, egg and we chose chicken for our protein component. Pure comfort food is how we would describe this homey plate.

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The noodles and curry dishes can be enhanced with their condiment tray which offers chili powder, chili sauce, sugar and chopped green chilies in vinegar.  The later which takes the noodle dishes to new heights of oral pleasure.

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Chinese broccoli with crispy pork comes with a dipping sauce but doesnt need anything in our humble option. The chunks of fat laden pork are an enlightened contrast to the still crisp greens.

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We strongly recommend a visit to Ruen Pair to anyone interested in tasting the Thai flavors that helped establish Thai Town in Los Angeles and with pretty much everything under $10 a dish, its an easy exploration of the best of the cuisine.

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Ruen Pair, 5257 Hollywood Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90027
Phone – 323-466-0153          web site – ruenpairthaila.com

or

Ruen Pair Thai Restaurant, 18219 East Gale Avenue, City of Industry, CA 91748
Phone – 626-964-2370

One Of The Oldest Thai Establishments In LA Brings The Classics Home

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Today we had the pleasure of dining at Chao Krung, one of the oldest Thai restaurants in Los Angeles. The second oldest, according to the owners.

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A tranquil space decorated with charming pagodas, wall murals, Buddhist art and lots of dark wood is warm and welcoming.

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The menu features traditional Thai cuisine and we dug into some of our favorites, beginning with chicken larb.

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The ground poultry salad is spiked with onion, chili, ground toasted rice and lime juice. Each chef has their own secret recipe for this Lao/Thai dish of pure refreshment.

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This version is served with lettuce leaves and mint, encouraging guests to wrap the salad in a romaine leaf, add some mint, fold into a taco shape and enjoy. The briny, tangy, coarse, citrus and herb scented mix is one of the most exciting Thai dishes we know.

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We were also impressed with the shiitake mushroom salad, packed with juicy, meaty grilled mushroom slices, a profusion of dark greens, tomato, bell pepper, cilantro and a light, complementary Thai dressing.

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No Thai meal feels complete without one of their signature soups and we feasted on a chili spiced, coconut milk based, chicken and herb soup accented with kaffir leaves, galangal and lemongrass.

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One of the most well known dishes is pad thai, where tangles of flat rice noodles are tossed with lime juice, green onion, fresh bean sprouts, shredded carrot, scrambled egg, crushed peanuts and plump shrimp in a mildly sweet sauce.

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The sweetness of the pad thai and other dishes can be tempered by the addition of vinegar with chopped chilies, one of the Thai condiments available to customers. The green chilies are hot and if spicy isn’t desired, the vinegar alone cuts the sweet and adds a zesty flavor creating a sweet and tangy melange that pushes Thai dishes to shine even brighter.

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Another bowl that is kicked into higher levels of excitement by the addition of spicy vinegar, is the duck curry. Tender, in-house roasted duck is combined with pineapple, tomato, basil, bell pepper and onions in a creamy, red curry and coconut sauce. This rich dish is perfect over rice, which sops up every drop.

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Meat lovers will appreciate the crying tiger appetizer, consisting of rare slices of beef that are dipped into the chili flecked sauce that accompanies, sometimes bringing guests to tears of spicy joy.

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We cooled our palates with their coconut ice cream, expertly accented with roasted cashew nuts and made on the premises.

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For a taste of Thailand from one of the families that introduced LA to the cuisine, Chao Krung remains a serene spot to savor life with good friends over memorable Thai classics.

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Chao Krung Restaurant, 111 North Fairfax Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90036
Phone – 323-939-8361           web site – chaokrungla.com

Inspired Indian Goods Emporium And Restaurant

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We were blown away by the overflowing imported goods available at Bhanu Indian Cuisine & Grocery.  Whoever does the buying at this store certainly knows their way around world renowned snacks, sweets and ingredients.

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Half the shop is dedicated to an Indian restaurant serving up mighty tasty vegetarian as well as omnivore centric Indian food.

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A periodic table on the back of the menu explains the chemistry of chili, a subject of endless fascination to us and an indication that the meal, ordered at a spice level 7, was going to be a seriously spicy dinner.

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The market is a joy to shop with narrow aisles loaded with exotic brands of Indian and South East Asian essentials.

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Snacks for making chat (Indian street or fast food) and ghee for cooking abound.

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Beauty products captured our interest as we contemplate the beauty of Indian women’s flowing dark hair.

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In the restaurant the large menu covers Indian snacks, street food, vegetarian, fish, chicken and meat based dishes.

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We love starting with a relaxing spice and milk filled chai.

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Our vegetarian thali plate came with light and fluffy basmati rice, chana masala, a refreshingly light eggplant curry, a creamy well spiced spinach with paneer, tart yogurt and we sprung for the extra .50 cents to have garlic added to our naan, for a crisp-edged, soft-centered, garlic infused delight of a bread.

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The spicy lamb korma was loaded with chunks of exceptionally tender lamb in a creamy, fruity, nut scented sauce that simply melted on the tongue.

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For an enthralling  experience delving into the markets, restaurants and cuisine of India, a stop by Bhanu Indian Grocery & Cuisine is a must try.

Bhanu Indian Grocery & Cuisine, 7246 Rosemead Boulevard, San Gabriel, CA 91775     Phone – 626-291-2101         web site – mybhanu.com

We’re Addicted to Poki

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The poki/poke craze has hit hard and we think the more fresh sashimi bowls the better.

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This miraculous dish of sushi rice, raw fish chunks, vegetables and seasoning sauces are a hybrid of Hawaiian, Japanese and American influences that meld into one delicious and filling meal.

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There are four steps at Pokiholic. First decide how many scoops of fish are needed, chose a base from rice to salad to nachos or any combination that pleases. Step two involves choosing the seafood from eleven raw and cooked offerings. Step three is spice level from hot to not. And the final step four entails a yea or nay to a wide array of toppings and sides added to your bowl at no extra charge.

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The assembly line of ingredients are all refrigerated and the process moves faster than one would guess for such a detailed endeavor.

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Yes, we would like a sushi rice and lettuce mix, with 5 scoops of fish. Spicy tuna (two scoops), yellowtail, ahi and seared garlic albacore please. Spicy! Avocado, cilantro, white onion, cucumber, jalapeño, green onion, seaweed salad, sesame seeds, spicy mayo, wasabi and ginger, thank you.

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The ingredients are cold from the refrigerated case and shine with super freshness. Tossing the “salad” creates a creamy, spicy, chunky, ocean kissed, textural extravaganza that was big enough to serve two. Hot Sriracha found on the table can be added if it’s still not picante enough.

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For high quality poke/poki bowls made with super fresh sashimi and a huge array of free add ons, all crafted to customers preferences, we strongly recommend a visit to Pokiholic to get your raw fish fix.

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Pokiholic, 2201 South Atlantic Boulevard, Monterey Park, CA 91754
Phone – 323-268-5988

Westside Thai With Caveats

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We love Thai Town, where we find some of the best Thai food in Los Angeles. But sometimes it’s easier to stay on the westside and avoid the hassle of east bound LA traffic during rush hour.

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Thai Boom in Palms is a little hole-in-the-wall, neighborhood spot that consistently gets a lot of high and mixed reviews, so we decided to try it.

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Their menu offers lunch specials and we look forward to trying these out as well, but we visited during dinner hours and found things we like about Thai Boom and things we’re not so crazy about.

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The tom yum, spicy, sour lemon grass, galanga and lime leaf scented clear broth is a wonderful rendition, loaded with mushrooms and plump juicy shrimp, our requested protein.  We were off to a great start and throughly enjoyed the soup, a standard that is well made here.

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We then moved on to the curry and noodle section of the menu.

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The pumpkin curry with tofu had silky cubes of soft tofu floating alongside sweet pumpkin chunks in a memorable curry sauce that was well spiced and perfectly suited for the namesake squash it is served with.

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We came into problems with the pad thai, the dish itself we thoroughly enjoyed after giving it a good toss with a hefty squeeze of lime juice and integrating all the fresh vegetables into the flavorful noodles. We also hit it with a splash of vinegar and chopped chilies to add a kick of spice. The only issue we had was with the meats.  We found the chicken dry and the pork and beef both tough and chewy.  We removed the less than stellar proteins and devoured our noodle dish. The staff were helpful and kind about our issues and we would definitely order this dish again except next time with shrimp or tofu, which they seem to have mastered.

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We don’t know if it was an off night or their market visits were spaced too far apart, but we found it a shame it ruin a perfectly good dish with less than the highest quality meats.

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We finished off the meal with our favorite Thai dessert, mango sticky rice. The rice was perfectly cooked and the coconut cream sauce served with it was a sweet, rich delight.  The mango however was far from the ripeness we usually get in Thai Town and although we did not send it back because it was still refreshing, it was a disappointment and we wouldn’t order it again unless we were assured the mango was super ripe and as close to sweet perfection as possible.

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Due to the challenge of finding stellar Thai food on the westside of Los Angeles and the delicious sauces, soups and noodle dishes Thai Boom offers, we would definitely return, but would make sure to order only their top quality offerings (shrimp and tofu seem to be their strong suits) and inquire to make sure they are providing their best because they definitely have the Thai flavors down pat.

Thai Boom, 10863 Venice Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90034
Phone – 310-842-8291          web site – thaiboomla.com

Zam Zam Is Back

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Looks can be deceiving. This has always been the case with Zam Zam, the small Pakistani market and restaurant has consistently been bare bones in looks and at the same time puts out some of the most flavorful dishes we’ve ever eaten.  Zam Zam has been searching for new digs and they are now set up in Hawthorn just a few steps away from another Pakistani favorite, Al Watan.

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The most relevant part for us is that they are back in business and better than ever.  Still getting into the swing of things, no rice pudding yet but hopefully next week, they offer a few dishes each day and when they run out they run out.

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The protocol is simple.  Go up to the little window in the metal counter that separates the dining room from the kitchen and ask what’s available.  During lunch they have the most options which slowly disappear as the day wears on. While they are preparing the food a tour around the little market is in order.

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There are just two aisles but hey are filled with imported goods essential for Indian and Pakistani cooking.

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Scented waters in a myriad of flavors are lined up.

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Hard to find imported brands are offered for just a few dollars.

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Don’t wander off too far, as the main event here is the exotically and heavily spiced food.

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Their chicken biryani is some of the best in town. Light, fluffy basmati rice is heavily infused with secret herbs and spices that keep the expat crowds clamoring for more. Hidden under the rice is fall-off-the-bone succulent poultry, and this biryani plate is piled high enough to feed a few people.

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They offer both a chicken and meat kabob.  We love them both for their heavy kick of herbs and chili, that make the charred and barbecued logs super juicy and flavorful.

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We like to wrap the kabob in the warm, freshly baked naan and then slather on the spicy, creamy raita brought to the table.

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To finish the meal, Indian spiced chai is heart warming perfection.

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We are so very happy to report that Zam Zam is back in business and getting up to speed as quickly as they can.  If they have it, don’t miss the spinach which is a wonder as are most of the vegetable dishes which often sell out by dinnertime. You can call ahead and ask them to set some aside.  If spicy calls, Zam Zam is once again the spot for some of the most fairly priced and delicious meals in town.

Zam Zam Market, 13649 Inglewood Avenue, Hawthorne, CA 90250
Phone – 310-978-1927

Spicy Tortas Ahogadas In ELA

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Since 1996, Tortas Ahogadas Ameca has been serving up antojitos Mexicanos. These little cravings or whims, are traditional Mexican snacks and dishes often served by street vendors in Mexico.  They can include corn on the cob, tacos, tortas (Mexican sandwiches), tamales, quesadillas, tlayudas, etc.

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The little restaurant is decked out in coral, turquoise and purple, reminding us of tropical beaches and spicy food.

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The menu on the wall and the tables lists specialties in Spanish, but they are happy to explain anyything that is unclear.

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We are addicted to the pambazo bread and had to try one of the potato, chorizo, lettuce and mayo sandwiches which is just as decadent and carb loaded as it sounds. A heavy hand with the green salsa also adds a layer of heat to the comforting sandwich.

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Barbacoa is one of our favorite tacos. They come in a variety of roasted meats that are super savory and slightly gamey in their richness.  Served with lime wedges, diced onion, cilantro and sliced radish, the citrus and fresh vegetables cut the heaviness and add a refreshing light layer on top of the densely filled tacos.

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Chicken tinga tostadas take smokey, captivating, shredded chicken stew and top it with lettuce, tomato and cheese.  We like to break up the fried tortilla at the bottom or pick up whole tostada to make sure we get a taste of each ingredient in every bite.  A spray of lime juice tips this heavenly creation to the next level of satisfaction.

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Prices start with tacos at $1.45 and top out around $8.00, so we feel free to sample a wide selection of menu items.

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The restaurant is named for their signature dish the torta ahogada, drowned sandwich.  We chose to load ours with carnitas before having them submerge the entire package in spicy salsa, allowing the bread and meat to  suck up the sauce like a sponge. Messy hot pleasure is how we describe these.

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East LA is always a great spot to find traditonal Mexican fare and Tortas Ahogadas Ameca is one in a long list of ELA shops serving up fine examples of the street food we love.

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Tortas Ahogadas Ameca, 747 South Atlantic Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90022
Phone – 323-268-6636          web site – tortasahogadasameca.com