Hollywood Boulevard stands as the Time Square in what is already a city of icons. Pedestrians traversing the blocks that sandwich Hollywood and Highland are met with copyright-infringing superheroes, bad chain restaurants, and a gum-marred sidewalk of stars. It might be hard to believe there’s anywhere worth eating so close to a Hard Rock Cafe—but just a few miles east on that same iconic street sit restaurants that not only transport diners out of Hollywood but take them to a completely different hemisphere.
Thai Town is a six-block neighborhood located between Normandie and Western in L.A.’s East Hollywood district. Though it begins only three miles south of the Hollywood Sign and two east of the Chinese Theater, Thai Town itself is far from iconic. To those driving through, the neighborhood might resemble nothing more than a collection of strip malls whose storefronts bare one of the many foreign languages spoken in the city. The closest it has to an identifying landmark is a colorful, neon sign for the “Thailand Plaza.”
But you will be surprised by the food and drinks that await…
For East-Coast kids who were raised to avoid strip mall fare, Sapp Coffee Shop is the perfect place to break you from that mentality. It shares a shopping center with Siam Photo & Video, an optometrist, and a Thai food market. From the street, the shabby storefront looks to be nothing special, but upon approaching the glass door, customers will find stickers displaying stamps of approval from everyone from Jonathan Gold to Tripadvisor.
Flickr photo via pelcinary
The menu is traditional yet exotic to those who aren’t familiar with Thai cuisine beyond pad thai. Their Thai iced tea and coffee are served on ice crushed fine enough to make you feel like you’re drinking a slurpy. It may be called Sapp Coffee Shop, but the noodle dishes are what they’re known for. The jade noodles are served dry (sans broth) and are named for their lovely green hue. They’re served with BBQ pork, duck, and crab meat—an odd-sounding combination that works surprisingly well. What ties the whole dish together are the condiments piled in the corner for your mixing discretion. The fresh taste with the cilantro and lime mixed with chili flakes and crushed peanuts create a flavor that’s both parts bizarre and comforting.
Flickr photo via djjewelz
Another favorite is the boat noodle soup, a dish traditionally made for Thai fisherman. You can order it with pork or beef, and either way it comes with a variety of weird and delicious meaty bits. My pork soup came with pig four different ways: liver, tripe, meatballs, and fried pork rinds on top. The result was a symphony flavors and textures so varied I could hardly believe they all came from the same animal. The airy pork skin topping transformed into something else entirely after making contact with the both. The funky, earthy taste of the pork liver contrasted against the fatty, melt-in-your-mouth tripe. Sipping the dark, murky broth brought a spice that stung the back of my throat and warmed my insides.
I left the table feeling high on endorphins from the chilies and little guilty for having enjoyed something so delicious for less than six bucks. It’s that dish and dishes like it that define Thai Town. Walk down Hollywood between Normandie and Western and you won’t be fooled into thinking you’re in Thailand—but slurp the soup sold at one of their strip mall shacks and you’ll easily forget you’re in L.A.