Showing posts with label soup noodles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label soup noodles. Show all posts

Eat Drink Style Ngu Binh, Little Saigon Westminster - Bun Bo Hue the Lonely, Distant Red-headed Relative of Pho

Ngu Binh, Westminster Little Saigon

When it comes to Vietnamese food, you can bet the first thing people will talk about is pho, a delicate soup noodle dish made from long hours of boiling beef bones, browned onions, fish sauce and various spices. Do not pronounce it like "foe" – all of your wrongdoings in life will be spilled over WikiLeaks and you'll be left to eat Costco samples for the rest of your life. I love pho as much as everyone does and enjoy eating it in whatever mood I'm in, but let's be honest, it's time it got off the stage like Leno. Of the hundreds of Vietnamese soup noodle dishes, it doesn't do much to the senses. There's definitely aroma, flavor and heat, but it is also one big bowl of boring. Zzzzz.

Believe it or not, pho will never go away. It's impossible. It's provided sustenance for Vietnamese people for decades and it fuels poor, starving college kids all over the U.S. It will not suddenly disappear off the face of this planet. As a suggestion for your New Year's resolution, may I suggest you start to veer off and try things like:

Banh Canh Cua - a thick, crab-based noodle soup with various seafood and meats
Bun Moc - a simple vermicelli soup with hand-made pork balls stuffed with wood-ear shrooms
Bun Rieu Oc - a dill & tomato flavored soup with snails or sometimes tofu & fishcake patties
Bun Thang - a soup noodle dish with thinly sliced fried eggs and Vietnamese meatloaf
Hu Tieu Nam Vang - an ode to Cambodian/Trieu Chau soup noodles also with various meats
Mi Quang - yellow rice noodles topped with shrimp, pork, peanuts and a side of broth

I can go on all day long about the various soup noodle dishes. When I was in Vietnam, they were everywhere. Cooked in restaurants, cafes, night markets and street stands. Each of the three main regions in Vietnam offer something delicious.

But the one soup noodle dish that I can never get enough of comes from the Central region of Vietnam known as Huebun bo hue. Literally it means "noodles", "beef" and "from Hue". The soup is made with beef bones, lemongrass stalks, ginger/onions/garlic and the key ingredient, chili oil. The result is a flavorful, fiery bowl of pure attitude. Look at it, it is the exact opposite of pho, it needs to attend anger management classes. My analogy: pho is the good catholic schoolgirl that never talks to boys, bun bo hue is the cigarette smoking, tatted-up bad girl destined to make a salary collecting $1 bills. Yes, raunchy but GOOD.

I'm sent to a place called Ngu Binh in Little Saigon by my friends MK and MT. It was about half-filled at 6 pm and in less than 10 minutes, J & I turned around to see at least 15 people waiting by the door for a table. I had also heard that the chef/owner of the restaurant is the only person with the responsibility of constructing each bowl of bun bo hue – no one else is allowed to. In English, that's called a "noodle Nazi" and its best to be out of the tornado's path. And on weekends, this place does sell out of bun bo hue. But on this day we were lucky.

Ngu Binh, Westminster Little Saigon

In a few minutes, our desired bowl of bun bo hue arrives and it is filled with all sorts of goodies. This is peasant food at its best. You've got slices of tender beef shank, a nice piece of skin-on pork foot, nuggets of Vietnamese meatloaf called cha and pork blood cubes. NO, thank god there is no tai rare steak! At many places I've eaten bun bo hue, the broth sometimes can have too much lemongrass or too much rock sugar. The soup here is delicious and very balanced. The chef leaves you with no choice but to handle the chili oil, and it is awesome. The vermicelli noodles used are thicker than pho, and a common noodle used in Chinese soup noodles – typically in Yunnan and Southern China.

Ngu Binh, Westminster Little Saigon

Here's the Google Earth view of the bun bo hue soup noodles. Amazing technology by Google. How funny would it be if you can zoom in on a restaurant. As you can see, there are a lot of things going on and its what makes this dish to me, quite a unique one.

Ngu Binh, Westminster Little Saigon

But what I love most about Vietnamese food is the customizing that you're encouraged to do. How many of you like to alter the color of your pho from a boring color to something orange from Sriracha sauce or dark brown from the Hoisin sauce? Or do you like to overflood the bowl with huge handfuls of bean sprouts? With bun bo hue, the party doesn't stop. Here's a tip for you to spot out an authentic bun bo hue restaurant. If you are served purple cabbage versus banana blossoms pictured above, you aren't getting the real deal. Banana blossoms don't have a strong taste but texture-wise, they add a nice touch to the soup noodles. I recommend adding a ton of torn mint to this dish – it takes it to another level.

Ngu Binh, Westminster Little Saigon

Pork blood cubes, aka, Chinese Chocolate. Love it or hate it, but don't dismiss the whole dish because of it. Made from congealed pork blood, this add another interesting texture that I really enjoy. The Chinese, Thai, Filipinos and Koreans also use this quite a lot in their cooking. Instead of freaking out, you can simply take it out. It's that easy.

Ngu Binh, Westminster Little Saigon

Another thing that separates this place from other bun bo hue restaurants is in the way they serve the Vietnamese meatloaf known as cha. I've noticed that the Chinese/Trieu Chau-run Vietnamese restaurants will use thin slices cut from a larger loaf – usually 3-4 slices. Cheap! 100% Vietnamese-run restaurants will usually offer nuggets or "logs" of cha. What in the world did I just mean by that? There are Chinese EVERYWHERE. The ones that have migrated to Vietnam to work are usually of Trieu Chau (Chiu Chow) descent. Although they do speak Vietnamese, the are in fact, more in touch with the Chinese side. If you've been to Hanoi, you can definitely notice Chinese influence since it borders China. When I had it at the famed lunch lady Bourdain visited in Saigon, she offered HUGE pieces of cha in her bowl of bun bo hue. Her bun bo hue was definitely on the punchy, lemon-grass heavy side as opposed to Ngu Binh's. Anyway, the cha here is the best I have eaten in the U.S. I tried to buy some to go but I got denied because they wouldn't have enough to complete their orders.

Ngu Binh, Westminster Little Saigon

At a Hue restaurant, you will hardly find egg rolls. But that's okay. Instead, you will see a lot of delicious rice-flour based dishes such as this, banh beo, steamed rice cakes topped with ground shrimp, fried shallots, scallions and my favorite, fried pork skins (chicharrones). Here at Ngu Binh, they certainly don't skimp on the toppings but the rice cake itself is a bit too thick. I actually prefer the thinner, translucent ones found at Quan Hy and Quan Hop.

Ngu Binh BBH7

Thanks again to MK and MT for the suggestion. A lot of versions I've tried either have too much MSG, too much sugar, too much fish sauce or simply lose their flavor at first sip. Ngu Binh is easily my favorite bun bo hue at the moment. Yet another stop in the wonderful Vietnamese food court known as Little Saigon.

Here are some other bun bo hue places I've tried/heard about:

Bun Bo Hue So 1, Westminster, CA
I used to frequent this place but the taste went down over the years. Very punchy lemongrass flavor. I like the mi quang here though.

My Linh's Bun Bo Hue, Garden Grove, CA
A friend told me about this place but I have yet to try it.

Pho Cong Ly Saigon Deli Restaurant, Garden Grove, CA
Another place I hear a lot about. Anyone try?

Brodard, Garden Grove, CA
The mecca for charbroiled pork rolls (nem nuong) offers a plethora of Hue food and is always packed. I've had several dishes here and they all seem average to me, including the bun bo hue.

Kim Hoa Hue, South El Monte, CA
A very balanced bun bo hue is offered here in what I refer to as Mini Saigon – all on Garvey Avenue. I love ordering the banana-wrapped goodies like nem chua, aka Vietnamese Roulette due to its "raw-but-cooked" look and cha hue. If you don't want to drive far, this will do you just fine.

Nem Nuong Khanh Hoa, Rosemead, CA
Run by a very nice Chinese/Trieu Chau (see I told you they exist!) family for a few years, they offer good nem nuong rolls but unfortunately I think the bun bo hue itself can use a little work. All I remember from is being very thirsty from the MSG used.

Nem Nuong Ninh Hoa, Rosemead, CA
This place has been here since the 90s, maybe even earlier, and located next to In & Out and Rosemead High School. Very punchy, lemongrass flavor. Sometimes a bit heavy on MSG. I recommend their nem nuong platter for an appetizer.

Mien Trung, Rosemead, CA
Run by a nice family, they offer various Hue dishes. It's not bad but there's a quick flavor fallout. I'd give their other dishes a try though. I would rather continue driving east to Kim Hoa Hue in Mini Saigon.

Nha Trang, San Gabriel, CA
This is a new spot run by a Chinese/Trieu Chau (ahem!) lady. She runs out of her Hue-style food pretty much on the weekends so you'll have to go here earlier in the day. Unfortunately, I came on a day they were sold out.

M Delivery, San Gabriel, CA
I had high hopes in this place that now takes over the old Banh Mi shop next to Popeye's. The place was screaming bun bo hue but unfortunately, it was less than average and strong on MSG. They do a lot of take-out/catering orders here.

Thanks for reading. Give bun bo hue a chance and hopefully you'll understand why I crave it so often.

Eat Drink Style Soo Rak San House of Noodles, Koreatown Los Angeles - Sujebi Korean Hand-Torn Noodles

Soo Rak San House of Noodles, Koreatown Los Angeles

The Koreans have quite a number of different dishes that are served on special occasions, seasons and holidays. I read on a Korean tourism site somewhere that bi bim bap is a typical New Year's day dish, same with rice cake soup, tteok. Or when a child is born, colorful rice cakes dusted with various bean powders are served to the family. I remember my good friend Immaeatchu telling me how she had made a beef and seaweed soup in celebration of her mom's birthday. Whatever the case, it seems like everyday is a party for Korean people. And for sure kimchi is that one dish that is celebrated everyday.

But for the not-so-glorious non-Holidays and special occasions that involve too much soju and watered-down Crown Royal, Koreans are also prepared for that department with the many 24-hour joints in Koreatown. A bowl of haejang kook (hangover soup), yu kae jang (spicy beef soup) or shul lung tang, white beef bone broth, always seems to do the trick. Although Korean soups and stews may not be glamorous enough to graze the cover of Food & Wine, they do serve their purpose in satisfying hunger and even providing bodily warmth. I recently found a place that serves Korean hand-torn noodles known as sujebi (soo-jeh-bee) and as I've heard from many of my Korean friends, a perfect dish on a rainy day. This dish may even be perfect for those "just got dumped by my girlfriend who started poking some guy who kept on poking her over Facebook" kind of day.

Sujebi refers to "noodles" that are hand-torn from a ball of dough and boiled in water. The texture is similar to Korean knife-cut noodles known as kal gook soo, but a bit more rough and chewy. In my opinion they are not as chewy as the standard rice ovalettes you see in dishes like dok pok ki and I actually prefer sujebi over those. Due to the hand-tearing technique, you'll never get the same noodle shape which adds a nice homeyness to the food – something I feel best represents Korean food.

Soo Rak San Noodle House - Koreatown, Los Angeles

I was first introduced to sujebi at the wonderful crab hot pot restaurant known as Ondal 2 (pictured above) – a delightfully ludicrous, four-part dinner that almost always requires a gurney to exit the restaurant. It is Part Three of the dinner and quite fun to watch. For those that have never been to Ondal 2, a waitress unravels a ball of dough out of saran wrap and rips pieces of "noodles" into the boiling crab soup. And they are tasty.

At Soo Rak San Noodle House, their specialties are sujebi and kal gook soo, with at least 5-6 versions of each for you to choose from. When I walked in, it was quite clear that I should stick to the sujebi based on the number of diners eating it as well.

Soo Rak San Noodle House - Koreatown, Los Angeles

For only $7.99, you are served quite a large portion of sujebi in a typical clay/stone pot, to maintain the hot temperature of the dish. The seafood sujebi came with shrimp, a piece of crab body and legs, clams and mussels. The sujebi broth consists of dried anchovies, seafood and kelp and really has a nice umami taste – more than your typical bowl of kal gook soo. The waitress came with the bowl and I parted the fruits de mer to the side... ah, there you are, my little gems of starch. There were two colored sujebi noodles: white and green. Turns out the green is not made of vegetable (squash noodles) like the ones served at LA 1080 Noodle House on Western. Instead, the chef uses chlorella powder to enrich with vitamins and enhance the color. Chlorella, not to be misread as cholera, is a type of green algae first incorporated into food to curb global hunger during the 1940s. Due to its high protein properties, it was used heavily in Korea during the war, when nutritious food was hard to come by. Don't you love it when you're eating something delicious AND nutritious? Double win.

Soo Rak San Noodle House - Koreatown, Los Angeles

I devoured the sujebi faster than I ate the seafood. In fact, the seafood was getting in my way. If you can handle the heat, this is one dish you want to eat when its spicy – so good. Compared to the other sujebi places I've eaten at – Ondal 2 and Olympic Noodle, this definitely holds up. But they are all pretty equal in my opinion. I don't think that Ondal 2 serves them separate from the crab hot pot. I have to go back and check out the kal gook soo soup noodles to make a better assessment. For now, both Soo Rak San and Olympic Noodle will do you just fine if you are interested in trying sujebi.

Soo Rak San Noodle House - Koreatown, Los Angeles

I also ordered a basket of their steamed dumplings and they were definitely tasty. I think I still prefer the dumplings over at Olympic Noodle and Myung Dong Kyoja over these. My only problem with these steamed dumplings is that they got dried out like a Hollywood celebrity's botoxed face. So you have to eat these quite fast. Flavor is there though.

Thanks for reading.

Soo Rak San Noodle House
4003 Wilshire Blvd. #1
Los Angeles, CA 90010
(213) 389-2818
Everyday 10 am - 10 pm

Eat Drink Style Olympic Noodle, Koreatown - Korean-Style Knife-Cut Noodles

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

As a noodle enthusiast, I give every cultures's offerings a chance whenever I can. Up until a few years ago, I didn't think Korean food had much to offer outside of their cold noodles (naeng myun), fried vermicelli noodles (jaap chae) and more popular amongst pimple-faced, brace-wearing teenagers, the instant kimchi noodle bowls loaded with MSG. Then I was introduced to Ma Dang Gook Soo and Myung Dong KyoJa, both of which are popular noodle joints in Koreatown. It was the first time I had eaten Korean-style knife-cut noodles and it was pretty good. I lost interest in MDGS pretty quickly because the soup was just too starchy. MDK's style of soup noodles also reminded me a lot of Chinese ground pork noodles (rou zhao and ja jiang mian). The dish itself is tasty when you add all the necessary condiments but the overcooking noodles was sadly consistent and really killed it for me. Korean noodles are good, but in the minor leagues compared to Chinese knife-shaven noodles (dao xiao mian). This style of noodle was done really well at places like Heavy Noodling and Kang Kang Food Court in SGV, and more recently, JTYH Restaurant in Rosemead. But there's a certain simplicity and homeyness to Korean food that I really enjoy. I'm not Korean but I certainly eat a lot of Korean food.

Given the option to spend $12-15 for a lunch in Culver City, I'd rather take El Diez down to Crenshaw for a place almost 1/2 the cost of it – and that's where I've been eating a lot of lunch. The fact that I've been back here nearly 10 times... bringing my wife Jeni, 3-4 coworkers and in the near future, the members of the Le Club de Grub project at work, it is clear that I really do enjoy this place.

You can expect your typical Korean restaurant set-up and decor here. Wood-laminate walls, a TV blaring Korean soap-operas and a large fridge loaded with condiments. The majority of the clientele here during lunch are older Korean businessmen, wearing napkins to shield any oily splash-back from the broth. But what you'll notice here if you pay attention is just how silent it is, with exception to a few loud slurpers. Everyone is pretty busy with their face in the large metal bowls. Always a good sign.

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

Here's the first reason why I like Olympic Noodle: their kimchi. It's not that bullshit watery, acidic kind from Cosmos jars. It's fresh, pasty, spicy and garlicky kimchi that is made like every few days. If you touch the kimchi with your fingers, you can still feel its pulse. Also, the servers are as nice as your own mother (hopefully). When it's not busy, they'll come and cut up your kimchi, making you a prince instantly for that $7.69 you're spending on their soup noodles – not bad right? AND, peppermint candy for your breath.

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

Steamed Dumplings
The Chinese make solid dumplings. I never had a huge liking for Korean dumplings because (A) they overstuff their dumplings, (B) don't go beyond meat and green onion filling and (C) I can't for the life of me figure out why a bag of 40 Korean dumplings will cost $12 at the market. And after trying Myung Dong Kyoja's dumplings, which I know is a big Koreatown favorite as well, I think I decided to stay with Chinese dumplings. And then, I find this place thanks to a coworker and I am liking Korean dumplings again. You can order these steamed, boiled or fried but I highly recommend steaming because you'll get the maximum flavor. But either of these will taste good unless you have your dipping sauce. A simple mix of soy sauce, vinegar, red chili paste and a few dashes of sesame oil – you're good.

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

Portrait of a Dumpling About to Be Eaten, 2009, Oil, Paint, Printed on Canvas
It was steamed perfectly and full of flavor. My coworker and I downed these in like 5 minutes. Note: Korean-style fried dumplings usually mean they are dumped in the fry-o-lator, not pan fried like potstickers or gyoza. Fried is good as well.

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

Main Event: Chicken Noodle Soup
This is what most people order and it's tasty. You can tell the soup is boiled with bones when it has that muddier color like tonkotsu ramen, which is known for its rich, pork bone broth. They give a lot of chicken actually and boiling it for a while is probably the easiest way to eat a dry-ass piece of chicken breast. The noodles have curves and jagged edges from inconsistent knife-work but have a nice bite to it. On the side, you'll see a red chili powder/scallion paste that you add to the chicken soup noodles. Then there's a soy sauce/scallion "relish" jar too for you to flavor the broth if needed. A few dashes of sesame oil can make it taste pretty good too. I prefer the Anchovy broth noodle soup because it has that nice dashi taste to it. But with first-timers, I always order them the chicken incase the word 'anchovy' makes them run for the hills.

Olympic Noodle, Koreatown Los Angeles

Just a note, one bowl of soup noodles is usually good between two people if you order the dumplings – only costing you $15 total with tax. Actually at Olympic Noodle, I usually see TWO GIRLS, ONE BOWL. K, bad joke – I'm not even going to provide a reference link. If you're in the mood for something homey and tasty, Olympic Noodle will do the trick. Thanks for reading.

Olympic Noodle
4008 W. Olympic Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90019
(323) 931-0007

Eat Drink Style Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake - A New Noodle Addition on the Eastside

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Los Angeles is a city with over 4 million people, and it's a surprise that this massive tally still lends itself to many it's-a-small-world occurrences.  Cut back 10+ years to high school.  I was much different then, as most people are.  I actually did really well in school, I was a soccer jock and I spent a good part of my days practicing how to do windmills, flares and headspins only to have my parents scream at me about studying for SAT's.  Like most high school groups, you had your own territory somewhere on campus.  For that 10 mins between every class, my friends and I would report back to basecamp, which was a tree that probably heard way more than it should have.  Not surprisingly, being in San Gabriel Valley, my group was entirely Asian except for this token white guy named Willie Wood, which we later knighted as Willie Woo.   Behind us was a nice mix of girls that were really into SKA & punk music that we would say hi too.  One of the girls, was this really quiet and sweet half Thai/half Caucasian girl that wore short hair, dressed in black and carried a lunchbox tattered with band stickers.  

And then forward 10+ years later at a dinner put together by TonyC of Sinosoul, I find myself sitting at the table staring at this girl.  I told J, I think that girl went to my high school.  She told me to find out if it was her.

Me: "Anjali?!"
Anjali: "Dylan?!"

I waved her over to sit with us, and it was truly a weird experience because we were never close.  But it's always cool to see where people are a few years down the line.   

Me: "Dude you like food?!"
Anjali: "Yeah! I write Delicious Coma."

J fell in love with her and they hung out a few times.  A few nights ago, we met up w/ her and her man to check out the new Umami Burger on Hollywood/Vermont, which was very good. I love that they have a good supply of Hitachino beers, a fine brew from Japan with a dope logo of an owl.  Anyway, Anjali mentioned this Thai noodle place that she had just checked out and one that I've seen on the way back home in Silver Lake.  

My noodle alarm woke me up at  7:30 am, thirsty and hungry.  The noodle alarm clock usually happens when I've had a little too much to imbibe.  The body needs liquids and solid food.  And I immediately thought about Wat Dong Moon Lek (WDML).  

Jeni, my friend Tyson and I showed up on a Saturday morning to this quaint place tucked inside of a strip mall.  Its turquoise/teal walls and colorful chalkboard really gave a nice vibe that attracted young people.  On the chalkboard, the menu was drawn with different colors along with photos.  I love places with chalkboard menus.  If we have money for it someday, we'd have some installed in the kitchen/dining area to write up menus for dinner parties.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Being a noodle shop, we went for the soup noodles.  This place, like Ord and Thaitown Noodles in Hollywood, offers miniature and regular-sized portions for a few of the dishes.  We decided to do halfers so we could try more food.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Wat Dong Moon Lek Beef Noodle Soup
This was first on their noodle category so I assumed it was their signature dish.  The broth was very light and delicate and I almost wished it had some beef blood in it to really thicken that broth.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Wat Dong Moon Lek Pork Noodle Soup
This was the pork sibling of the previous dish.  Again, same broth with different meat.  I was hoping for some pork offals.    

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Tom Yum Pork Noodle Soup
I have seen tom yum style soup noodles, but never anything orange colored like this.  It almost looked like a prude, Catholic school girl version of Vietnam's punch-in-the-face pork lemongrass soup noodles known as bun bo hue.   The usage of udon in Thai cuisine was new to me and probably  just a homemade creation.  I would order this again and a lot of chili sauce.

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Hainan Chicken Rice
This is a dish the Hainan Chinese brought all over Southeast Asia.  You can find this pretty easily in a Thai restaurant.  The chicken was pretty moist but the hoisin & peanut butter sauce was different than the sweet, ginger-garlic sauce that is traditionally served.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

Ham Hock Rice
I think I favored this dish the most out of everything.  It's also a take on a popular Chinese dish that includes five-spiced braised pork, pickled mustard greens, a five-spice boiled egg and a tasty sauce.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

The food was on the lighter side here as I'm pretty used to straight-forward, bold flavors from Thai food.  But I think we've completely missed the point here.  I forgot that Anjali had recommended the Rambutan salad, which consists of a lychee-like fruit, shrimp and coconut milk and some type of spicy mussel dish that a lot of patrons had ordered.  I'll be back here again to try those dishes out.  The service is great, the people are cool and it's a nice break from the limited parking in Thai Town.  

Wat Dong Moon Lek, Silver Lake

I highly recommend trying the soup noodles over at Ord and Thai Town Noodles as well. Thanks for reading and to Anjali, Jeni and I had a great time with you and R.  Ready for part two.

Eat Drink Style Pho Garden, San Francisco - Man vs. Pho: An Actual Survivor of the World's Largest Bowl of Pho

Man vs. Pho
Today, I received an email from a reader by the initials of HB. She had read my posting on Pho Garden up in San Francisco, the proud host of the pho challenge. If you can eat this mammoth bowl of pho, your $22 bowl of pho is FREE. I did not realize just how big this bowl of pho was until HB emailed me these photos. Just look at it. Do the servers need a weightlifting belt just to haul this to the table? I think I see the hooves and horns of the cow in that bowl as well. Worth it?! Not in my opinion. But for an eating-challenger like this gentleman, it's worth the bragging rights and a well-deserved virtual high-five from me. Here's what HB wrote:

"I was witness to my boyfriend Brian completing the Pho Garden challenge last weekend. I originally saw your post with Pho Garden pics and of course had to send him the link since we are pho freaks and he recently discovered the world of eating challenges. He emailed the photos around and issued a challenge to his friends. 2 months later 3 challengers sat down to the huge bowls of boiling pho. Holy cow you should have seen the mixed emotions these guys went through in the span of 60 minutes while eating- fear, happiness, relief, denial, nausea, disgust. My boyfriend Brian was the only one to finish in 47 minutes and I have to admit that I've never been so proud! haha! So thanks for the idea and now this triumph will live on forever for us. Oh yeah, I wanted to mention that Brian said that initially he thought the pho was good, but that he seemed to be slowly blacking out while he ate and cannot remember the taste of a single piece of meat even though he ate 2 pounds. Pretty funny, right? Has this ever happened to you?"

Fear, happiness, relief, denial, nausea, disgust? Talk about an emotional meal. And no I have never had a euphoric, near-death experience from eating. Well maybe the f'd up shrimp I ate in Brazil that pained me for 3 days and earned me a 60-minute morphine ride at the hospital.

If you look carefully, the bottom of the bowl says "You did it!!!" Good thing it didn't say something like...

"Congrats, this was just the appetizer."
"Good job, the hospital is a few blocks down."

Thanks again to HB for the email and congrats to Brian.

Eat Drink Style Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park - Thai Soup Noodles in SGV

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Little China, or as most people know it, San Gabriel Valley, welcomes a new restaurant to an otherwise homogenous land of Chinese restaurants ranging from Hong Kong/Cantonese, the mainland including Yunnan, Hunan, Sichuan and Chiu Chow. Instead of being greeted by someone saying "ni hao" or "how meh-nee peepo!" on an old Aiwa stereo-turned-PA-system, you'll hear "so waat dii", which is Thai for "hello". Thai restaurants are not a new thing in San Gabriel Valley but from many experiences, most seem to offer the usual suspects during lunch special and sport purple tablecloths and Buddha paintings. Over the last two decades, Thai has become the new "Chinese" and offer the same old pad thai, tom yum soup and papaya salad – not many of them feature soup noodles. Although this place is nearly hidden in an ugly grey shopping center, this place actually sticks out like a sore thumb.

You may know of Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, formerly as Ord on Hollywood Blvd. It was at Ord that Lawan Bhanduram established her noodle empire and then branched off to Panorama City to launch Ord 2. She sold Ord on Hollywood to a nice, hardworking family led by Bell Morawong. The food didn't taste exactly the same but it was still a favorite amongst noodle whores of all shapes and sizes. But much to their surprise, Bhanduram made an unexpected return to Thai Town a few months later. As much as I love Bhanduram's Pa Ord, it was a bit too close to the original Ord if you ask me. Now Morawong has expanded her business down into a new territory and I'm hoping they get some decent attention for some otherwise "different" soup noodles in Little China.

If you've been to Dean Sin World, which I believe just changed its name to something else weird, for their dumplings, then you've seen this ugly shopping center. For years I've wondered when exactly tumbleweeds would roll through there. But with the addition of Dean Sin World and Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, this shopping center seems to be slowly regaining a pulse. Since they've only been opened for 2 weeks, they don't have a sign, so look for the homemade sign with Thai writing on it. It looks squigglier than Chinese and drawn with Crayola markers.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

I took a seat and one look at the interior, knew that this was a Chinese restaurant in the previous life. Well I got a hint, the booth seats actually had Chinese embroidery. My dad, Noodle Whore Senior, told me about this place and we weren't sure if this was in fact Morawong's new project or a newcomer also offering the favored Hoy Kha Tom Yum soup noodles. I recognized the condiments and containers used here... especially the tin box containing the chopsticks and metal spoon and knew this was place was opened up by one of the Ord owners. Hoy kha means 'dangling feet noodles'. Don't worry, the cooks weren't soaking their feet in your broth, it's a reference to the bench seating at this particular noodle shop along the rivers in Thailand. The seating along the edges of this outdoor restaurant don't have any flooring so you have to sit on the floor and drop your legs through, and eat off the table that's built into the side railing. Next time you're at Hoy Kha Thai Noodles in Hollywood, look at the photos of the dangling feet and you'll understand.

With the Thai soup noodle places, it's important to know that you can choose between many types of noodles, five to be exact. You can also order this sans soup. In Chinese/Chiu Chow places, you'll also have the option of wide, egg noodles. Like Italian pasta, some shapes hold better than others.

(A) Big, flat rice noodles
(B) Rice noodles used in pho or pad thai
(C) Thin, egg noodles
(D) Vermicelli (common in the pink-colored Yen Ta Fo)
(E) Glass noodles (bean threads)
(F) Square rice noodles/rolled cylinders (used only for Kuay Jup soup noodles)

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Hoy Kha Tom Yum Noodles
I tried the namesake noodle dish first. This is based off a Chinese/Chiu Chow soup noodle dish which is basically a soupy version of chop suey and noodles. Like most peasant food and for people on the go, this was a mix of either leftovers or unwanted animal parts plus your choice of noodles. In this Thai version, you have Chinese BBQ pork (cha shu), ground chicken, pork balls, pork liver, fishcake and dried shrimp. The soup tasted exactly as I remembered from the first location. The soup is light, slightly sweet and just tart enough. It was good. But my only problem with this dish and most of the places that offer the mini/large bowl soup noodles is that they throw in too many raw ingredients like bean sprouts and lettuce, which bring down the soup temperature. Booooooo. So try asking for steamed bean sprouts as some people do with Vietnamese pho.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Kuay Tiao Luh Thai Boat Noodles
I fell in love with Thai Boat noodles at a place you wouldn't expect. It was sometime in the early 90s, when Noodle Planet/World was the "hot spot" for SGV denizens. A brilliant idea run by a young man of Thai and Caucasian decent, this was a place where you could order soup noodles from "around the globe". And they happened to offer Thai Boat Noodles. One look at my dad, who was sweating bullets while finishing the last spoonful of soup, I could tell this was a good bowl of soup noodles. But like Chinese beef noodle soup, there are so many interpretations. People love Sapp Coffee Shop, which we used to frequent back in the 90s, for their daring, more vulgar broth that gave off salty, bloody, spiceful and sour tones. My recent favorite is Pa Ord's, which has a nice thickness to the soup that isn't as rich as Sapp's, yet has a balance that I prefer. But here at Hoy Kha's, it's a good thing they didn't name the place after this dish because it's definitely not the main event. The soup had the five-spice action, but there was no punch. I added vinegar from the green chili relish to make it work.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Another thing was there was only braised beef shank, which tastes good, but I was really craving some pork blood cubes and rare beef. I was hoping for more out of this but I'll definitely try it again next time I come. Why not, it's only $3.50.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Crispy Pork & Holy Basil Rice with Fried Egg
Yes, I know, I always order this with my diminutive noodle bowls, but this dish is for me a way to gauge a Thai restaurant. A pho restaurant that can't do a decent bowl of pho... a taco truck that can't do a carne asada taco right? I never eat pad thai, even if it's offered in gigantic dumpster trays at office meetings... I just have no interest. But this dish, this is what you'll most likely see the employees of a Thai restaurant eating on their lunch break. Crispy pork that is wok-fried again before service, crunchy long beans, basil and a sloppy fried egg. Man.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park


Hoy Kha Thai Noodles, Monterey Park

Look at that. Magic happens once you crack that egg. Make sure you ask for it over-easy, runny yolk. It's as beautiful as cracking a beautifully poached egg into your bowl of tonkotsu ramen. Pa Ord's is still my favorite, but I have to say that this tasted better than the original location.

For those that can't venture into Thai Town for Pa Ord or Ord, this serves as a great option for your Thai soup noodle needs. Also, it's a nice break from Little China. I recommend the Hoy Kha soup noodles with mild spice and Crispy pork rice with basil (not Chinese broccoli) and runny over-easy egg. The Thai sausages from what I remember are a good appetizer as well. Thanks for reading.

Hoy Kha Thai Noodles
230 N. Garfield Avenue
Monterey Park, CA 91754
(626) 927-9629
Everyday 10 am - 9 pm

Eat Drink Style Ord Noodles and Thaitown Noodles, Hollywood - Mini Bowls of Joy

Just kidding... they aren't THAT small.  Just wanted to bring to light, some of my favorite soup noodles from the Thai Town area in Hollywood.  When I was writing the Noodle Whore blog, I started out researching the Thai Town area – places like Yai, Sanamluang, Sapp Coffee Shop and Rodded were definitely popular.  In a matter of 5 years, my dad (Noodle Whore Sr.) and I have seen Thai Town change quite a bit.  A few changes in ownership and new chefs really kept it dynamic.  So it's not a wonder that I, maybe you as well, jump around the restaurants a lot in Thai Town.  In my opinion, one thing remains true though.  Besides the spicy curries, hand-mixed food, soups and stir-fries, the Thais are outstanding at producing tasty soup noodles.  And it's why I continue to eat here at least twice a month.  

It was only a few years ago that Thai Town introduced their version of a Jack-in-the-Box/Burger King slider, or as they call it Mini Sirloin and Burger Shots.  My Dad said that I was being too much of a fat, greedy, over-consuming American because this is how they do it in Asia – smaller bowls.  Face it, we all like miniature things.  As much as I hold myself back in using the C-word, miniature things are CUTE.  And I think the same thing can be said about these smaller bowls of soup noodles – or as I call them, Diet Soup Noodles.  It's not that they are healthier in any way, it's just that you get a smaller serving.  For anyone that enjoys soup noodles, this is great because you can try more than one type of noodle each time you visit. Or you can be a Debbie-downer-pessimist and see that you're actually spending more money for two miniature bowls than a regular sized bowl.  Whatever the case, your stomach will thank you.

Ord Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Ode to Ord
This place has always been solid.  The crowd here is typically younger and the clientele primarily speak Thai.  At any time of the day, you can find yourself bobbing your head to Thai R&B slow jams busting out from the mini stereo system here.  Ord has also started closing daily at midnight – oh joy.  

They have 4-5 different types of noodles you can pick from in the mini $3 bowl category.   Not everything is offered in a midget form, just a few.  Most people come here for the Crispy Pork & Basil Rice and Thai Boat noodles, but Ord prides itself most on these noodles called hoy khaa. Literally, it means 'dangling feet noodles'.  Don't worry, the cooks weren't soaking their feet in your broth, it's a reference to the makeshift-seating at this particular noodle shop along the rivers in Thailand.  I believe Ord is the name of the city this family is from. When you go in, look at the photos of the dangling feet and you'll know what they mean.  $3.50 for diet bowl, $5 for regular bowl.

Ord Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Ground Pork, Pork Ball, Dried Shrimp & Pork Liver Soup Noodles (#1 Hoy Kha)
This is a true pork-heavy treat.  Nice chunks of ground pork, a toothsome pork ball, slightly-bloody pork liver with your choice of noodles - served dry or with soup.  I almost always go with the soup and thin rice noodles.  The soup has a nice pork bone base with a sharp sweetness and a bit of tartness to it.  There are so many delicious things to pick at and excavate from the bowl. Thinly sliced green beans and fresh bean sprouts are added for texture.  

Note: medium spicy is pretty SPICY.  I'd go with mild and add your own chili flakes.  Also, for some reason, if you order hoy kha with glass noodles, you can't get a small bowl – only a large bowl.  Also #2, I sometimes find the regular-sized bowl isn't filling enough, simply add $1 more for noodles.  

Recommendation: Thin or thick rice noodles with soup.  Egg noodles just don't seem to work well with this.  

Ord Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Thai Boat Noodles (Kuay Tiao Luh)
This is the most common bowl of soup noodles in Thai Town, much like Chinese beef noodle soup in San Gabriel Valley.  The soup is made with Thai soy sauce, fish sauce, herbs, spices and of course, beef blood for the rich flavor.  I really enjoy their soup, as it has a nice beefiness and vinegar kick to it.  Compared to Sapp Coffee Shop's bold kick-in-the-face TBN, this is more on the delicate, sour side.  I used to eat at Sapp a lot, but lately, it has become a bit salty for my taste.  But they do a great TBN.  

Recommendation: Thick rice noodles with soup.  Choose from Beef or Pork, both are good.  

Ord Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

On the other side of the street and just a few blocks east is another strip mall gem that doesn't get as much attention. We've been coming here for years to this noodle shop run by a mother and daughter.  In January '09, the mother retired and sold the business to another woman.  My Dad and I still call it "Mama's Noodle shop" though because it's so homey.  The space is no bigger than your average dining room/kitchen, seats approximately 20 pigs and really feels like you're eating at someone's house.  The chef is pretty much within arm's reach.  And they barely have any room to contain their restaurant products.  I remember one time having to use the restroom.  The place was so small, the cook AND the waitress had to stop cooking and move out of the way just so that I could walk through haha.  

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

On the outside of the restaurant is a giant hint as to what you should order.  I want one of these to hang over my fireplace but I think you-know-who would be upset. Nam tok can be translated as 'beef blood' noodle soup.  But it doesn't matter, just saying these two words will get you to a happy place.  $3 for a diet bowl, $5 for a regular bowl.

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

You are looking at one quarter of the restaurant.  

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Here's another soup noodle worth trying.  Think TBN with tendon and minus the blood.  

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Here's the chef in the second quadrant of the restaurant. 

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Preparing the nam tok noodle soup.

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Nam Tok Beef Noodle Soup (Kuay Tiao Nam Tok)
I'm sad that the previous owner is no longer here because she truly made a great bowl of nam tok noodles.  Although these are a bit different, I still think it is decent if you don't want to wait at Ord, which can sometimes be crowded.  The major difference between this version and Mama's is that they add a lot of fried garlic, fried pork skins (chicharrones) and have a clearer soup.  Mama's was way more rich in beef blood, while this is stronger on the five-spice powder flavor.  Still, both are good.  Meat is cooked perfectly as I love my liver pieces to be more on the bloody side. 

Thaitown Noodles, Thai Town Los Angeles

Tom Yum Pork Noodle Soup (Kuay Tiao Tom Yum)
I usually order a small bowl of this along with my nam tok noodles.  It's nice to have two different flavors going on.  Tom Yum, as you're probably familiar with, describes a distinct sour taste in food – almost limey and spicy.  The soup noodles here don't employ the same broth, but something way more delicate than its counterpart, tom yum goong.  This is served with similar ingredients as Ord's hoi kha, and also includes fish cake, fish ball, fried garlic and fried pork skin.  Try this out sometime.

Thanks for reading.  Both places are cash only.  

Ord Noodles
5401 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90027
(323) 468-9302
Monday - Sunday  10am - Midnight

Thaitown Noodles
5136 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA  90027
(323) 667-0934
Monday - Sunday  8am - 8pm