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

Eat Drink Style Shisen Ramen, Torrance - A Szechuan-Style Ramen Shop

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

I think my appreciation for ramen came after my friends and I went to Japan for the first time. We weren't particularly hunting for ramen, but more so, let the smells and signage of a ramen shop attract us.  And we fell in love. Japan made it really easy for us to find food through one simple principle: cook nothing but delicious food.  Every shop we went to was simply solid.  From light, salt-based and soy sauce-based soups (shio and shoyu) to thicker-stock soups (tonkotsu), they were all good.  For a while, the ramen shops on Sawtelle row represented the ramen capital.  And it wasn't until coming back from Japan, that we realized that those noodle shops just didn't cut it.  We reminisced and lamented for a while.  We tried to find a place that offered a more rich-style broth other than salt and miso paste.  

Then came Shin Sen Gumi (Gardena, Costa Mesa & Rosemead) and Daikokuya (Little Tokyo) opened, creating this pork-bone soup craze that changed the Los Angeles ramen scene.  Shortly after,  a wave of new ramen shops hit the Los Angeles area after 2000, introducing more and more varieties of ramen.  Santouka, Asa, California and Gardena ramen to be exact.  Our friend Rameniac really helped define the differences in the shops available here and really made ramen a hot topic.  

After class, Jeni and I continued our ramen adventures in the South Bay area.  We had a really tasty experience at Shigetoshi "Sean" Nakamura's California-cuisine/ramen experiment – in which he combines farmer's market ingredients like heirloom tomatoes and cheese in ramen.  A combination that would surely raise the eyebrows of any pre-nisei Japanese, but has somehow got both Jeni and I craving it.  And we find ourselves here at about 10 pm – at a ramen shop offering Szechuan-style ramen.  Funny when you think of it, since it was the Chinese that inspired Japanese ramen.  FYI, ramen means 'pulled noodles', and it's pronounced 'la mian' ( 拉 麺 ).

I was so stoked to try this because we had a similar dining experience in Yokohama, Japan, shortly after visiting the Ramen Museum.  Ridiculous, I know. Basically, take your traditional Chinese dishes like BBQ pork, black bean sauce noodles, mabo tofu or sesame paste noodles and dump it on top of noodles and soup... voila Chinese-style ramen. But it's actually more complicated than that as you'll see.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

We sat down and took a look at the menu.  The main feature was the shisen ramen, which is Japanese for Szechuan.  We were about to order from it until we saw tonkotsu and a special ramen called the Garlic Black Shisen which got us wide-eyed.  A few months ago, I was at Ippudo Ramen in New York begging the chef to make a 'burnt soy sauce' ramen (kogashi) I had heard about.  My friends had just gotten back from Japan and bragged about it - I couldn't take it!  I was declined in New York but suddenly reminded of that style of ramen when I saw the Shisen special.  One please.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

Garlic Black Shisen Ramen ($9.80)
Although it looks like a mini Exxon oil tanker ran into some rocks, this was one promising bowl of noodles.  We both took a whiff of the ramen – the smell of fried garlic was marvelous. Thinly-sliced scallions, bamboo shoots and a few pieces of pork... we were ready.   The soup was really excellent, but super oily.  That's expected out of any tonkotsu-style soup.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

They used yellow noodles, which had just the right texture to it.  I usually go for medium cooked noodles because I like more bite to it.  I am actually craving this bowl of noodles right now.  They've had this on special since July and the servers said that they do change frequently.  I would go eat this ASAP.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

Tonkotsu Chashu ($7.50)
We also ordered the tonkotsu chashu ramen to really gauge the restaurant.  We do this all the time with pho restaurants.  If the pho isn't any good, chances are, it's not their focus or they really need a new chef.  I looked at the broth and kind of hesitated.  After eating that Black Garlic ramen, I was a bit greased out.  But it was everything but oily, and packed with a strong flavor of pork, salt and a lot of ginger.  I even dumped in some of the pureed garlic offered by the restaurant.  This was really good.  Except for...

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

the overcooked noodles.  Aye.  It could have been a stellar bowl.

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

But to make up for that, Shisen Ramen is quite generous with the chashu portions.  It was almost too much for me since the pieces were pretty fatty.  

Shisen Ramen, Torrance

I also noticed in the chashu photo, an uncanny resemblance to Scarecrow in Batman Begins.  Not the most beautiful photo of chashu, but I promise it is very palatable.

We also ordered gyoza and paiko for appetizers (not pictured).  The gyoza (in Chinese 'jiao zhi' or  'gao jee') were tiny as hell, but fried beautifully.  You know you're eating a good gyoza when you have that tiny crunch from the crisped up wrapper – something the Japanese are masters at making.  The paiko here (in Chinese 'pai gwut' or 'pai gu') are very similar to the fried pork chops sold in Taiwanese joints, but nothing comparable to it.  They were fried nicely with a nice dash of five-spice powder and served with a Sriracha-based dipping sauce.  

I am already thinking about my next meal here.  Thanks for reading and hope you enjoy.

Shisen Ramen
1730 Sepulveda Blvd. #6
Torrance, CA  90501
(310) 534-1698

Eat Drink Style Ricky's Fish Tacos - The One Man Stand

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

***UPDATE: Ricky's Fish Tacos has moved to 4100 N. Virgil in the Virgil Village area, just south of Hollywood/Blvd. Wed - Fri 11:30 - 4:30 and Saturdays & Sundays 11:30 - 6 pm . Check his twitter updates as his scheduling does change.

In Los Angeles, a whole vending truck craze started going around, ever since the debut of Kogi BBQ. Not only are there copycat Korean BBQ trucks, Indian food from the Dosa Truck, a Vietnamese banh mi truck in Westwood (Nom Nom), a sushi truck called Fishlips, and a Japanese snack truck called Marked 5, just to name a few. But, for me I prefer the wheels of a stand versus the wheels of a truck. And it's nice to know that some people are still keeping it real, like this gentleman, Ricky.

After having some friends tell me about this one-man-fish-taco-stand, Jeni and I drove over on a breezy Saturday afternoon to hopefully eat Ensenada-style food. We were told that Ricky showed up sporadically on Sunset, in front of a laundromat, just across from Intelligentsia. The only way to know if he's there is to look for a sign, or more specifically, a rainbow parasol. My brain has learned that rainbow parasols are often linked to delicious street food together after a visit to the wonderful Breed Street food fair in East LA.

We were fast approaching Ricky's location but there was traffic, so we couldn't see anything in front of the laundromat. But good things happen if it was meant to be... there it was, the rainbow parasol. Fish tacos... on the street... on a sunny Saturday...

Like a one-man band armed with his bass drum, harmonica, knee cymbals and trombone, Ricky had his own arsenal of utilities. A deep-fry cart, tongs, his condiments, a griddle underneath the fryer, an Igloo for keeping tortillas warm, a fish cooler and of course, the rainbow umbrella. We walked up to the 'store' after Ricky served his customers, he smiled and asked us, "fish taco?" Most definitely. And this is how you make an Ensenada-style fish taco. The way Ricky does out of a small cart on Sunset Blvd. "Two please."

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

We watched as he reached into a small cooler. He pulled out a small ziplock bag of fresh fish and took out a few pieces. Ricky, like Joseph of Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada, also uses basa, a Vietnamese catfish from the Mekong river delta. With tongs, he carefully dipped each piece of fish in his special batter. Right before frying, he made sure that any excess batter was shaken off. I've had too many fish tacos that were nearly 50/50 batter and fish – gross. I remembered someone on Chowhound saying that the fish tacos at Tacos Baja Ensenada in East LA, are good, but pack on way too much batter. I couldn't agree more as I ate the fish tacos. There was so much batter that the fish had broken off from the batter itself. If there was ever an audition for a salt shaker position in a Latin band, I might actually have a chance with those babies. TBE, without a doubt though, is still one of LA's best.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

As you can see, Ricky's got all his settings right. Fresh oil, no overcrowding, no burnt bits and a new cooking technique foreign to me, can only lead to a beautiful product. When the fish is almost ready, he makes a large piercing with his tongs into the center of the battered baby, bringing in a gush of hot oil that not only makes cooking a lot faster, but a nice jolt of flavor. Healthy, by no means. Ricky then pulls out some warmed tortillas from his Igloo and lays the fish down to sleep.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Finely-chopped pico de gallo and cabbage are then added in a proportional manner. Fans of Best Fish Tacos in Ensenada might have to hold themselves back and let the chef do the work. I myself can learn a lesson or two, as I tend to overload my FT's with crema and cabbage.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

For me, one of the things that differentiated BFTIE and TBE was the cream used. BFTIE was a bit sweeter than TBE's that added a finishing touch to a solid fish taco. I asked him if he used crema mexicana, and he politely said,

"No, I use mayonnaise and milk. It's how we do it in Ensenada." This is the word of the lord.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Going in for the Kill
For $2.50, Ricky offers a well-endowed fish taco. Not an appropriate adjective to use, but it's a good size. I had to hold the taco with a wide grip above the taco, careful not to poison the cream with my own palms. When I took a bite, I felt a layer of textures:

- the creamy sauce
- the slightly cold pico de gallo and salsa
- the crispy-battered fish
- the warm tortilla

And all of it made sense. So much sense, that I had to order another one.

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

Ricky's Fish Tacos, Silver Lake

We both really enjoyed the fish tacos served by the extremely nice, Ricky. What's not to love about a man earning an honest buck selling something that was passed down from his mother. At one point, Ricky stopped during our conversation. He saw the meter maid on Sunset Blvd. and told us to watch his 'store' as he fed the meter. Awesome.

Ricky offers two types of salsa but both were really delicate in spice. I think all that was needed was a spicy kick to the salsa, to really make this one fish taco to beat. A very nice customer was kind enough to set Ricky up on Twitter and you can find him on Saturdays and Sundays from 12-4 pm. As we left, I quickly texted some friends to hurry on down to try his fish tacos. They all loved it, and I'm sure you will too.

Ricky's Fish Tacos
Corner of Sunset & Santa Monica Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90026
Saturdays & Sundays 12:30 - 4pm
Check his Twitter Before You Go

Eat Drink Style Buu Dien, Chinatown - Keeping It (Bun) Rieu

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Chinatown, Los Angeles. A one square mile area that some call their weekly lunch spot or see as purely a wasteland of elderly people, junk shops and wandering tourists. For those that have ventured and tasted SGV, it is futile to search for better food in Chinatown. Understandably it’s a spot for people that don't want to make the drive out to the San Gabriel Valley, where the real food is. You won’t find lip-stinging Hunan food. You’ll never kiss a juicy pork dumpling. Nor will you slurp a solid bowl of beef noodle soup. It doesn’t exist in Chinatown because it’s not what the people want. You’ll most likely find all of your food drenched with sweet n’ sour sauce and receiving your bill with a fortune cookie on top. Sadly, a lot of people consider the food to be authentic “Chinese” food. If that was Chinese food, I’d rather go vegetarian. And what a lot of people don't know about Los Angeles’s Chinatown is that it's not really comprised of Chinese. In actuality, most of the Chinese food that you've eaten in Chinatown is Cantonese Chinese food, similar to Hong Kong-style Chinese food... but made for non-Chinese. Got it?

Of course the majority of the establishments are Chinese restaurants and various businesses, but it would be unfair if we did not recognize the efforts of the ethnic Chinese minorities that really do shape the character of Chinatown. But in the last decade, there has been an influx of Mainland Chinese, Chiu Chow Chinese, Cambodian Chinese and Vietnamese Chinese. A lot of them operating small noodle shops, jewelry stores and general eateries. You just read the word “Chinese” how many times in that last sentence, but there is a difference. And believe it or not, not all Asians look or eat the same. One thing in common with those ethnic minority groups are noodles. You probably won't find me in a joint like Empress Pavilion or one of those television-network Chinese restaurants like CBS/ABC. What the hell is that about anyway? I avoid those entirely. But you will find me in the noodle shops.

It's hard to find authenticity in Chinatown, I know because it seems like everything is offering the same food. But if you look really hard, you'll find some hidden gems. When it comes to noodles, the ethnic Chinese minorities reign the 1 square mile kingdom. Hong Kong wontons don’t exist here like you would think, not even in SGV. Places like New Kamara and Mien Nghia offer decent bowls of soup noodles for under $7, guaranteed to make your belly shiny. There are a few other Cambodian Chinese places that are so so, and you would surely find better stuff in Long Beach for sure.

For me, I think the Vietnamese options are on the light. Outside of Pho 87 on Broadway, I haven't found anything worth stopping for. All of the other pho restaurants I've been to are below the batting average. There is also Leena's truck, Nam Thai, on Spring/Alpine which offers a few Vietnamese staples such as banh mi, banh cuon and bun thit nuong, with the banh cuon being purchased from a factory daily. But her truck has been in operation since the lates 80s and runs independently from the Los Angeles food truck scene.

Amidst the salad bowl of ethnic cuisines, tourist traps and overpriced food, I’ve recently parted through the brush and bullshit and fell upon Buu Dien, an earnest, mom & pop, sandwich shop in a lonely stuccoed strip mall. Jonathan Gold recently heralded this place as one of the best banh mi shops in Los Angeles. And they are good. But he may or may not have overlooked something that I find to be quite delicious and what Buu Dien should be recognized for. I’ve been here a few times over the year to pick up sandwiches and one day I noticed a sheet of paper by the entrance: pho, chicken curry and bun rieu. For $4 each. Can’t be good, too cheap, right? You’ve had the first two, but may I suggest you meet bun rieu? A dish that consists of a crab and tomato broth with vermicelli noodles and various toppings. This originates from North Vietnam and can be topped with snails, tofu or even dill fishcakes, the way I had it when I was in Vietnam.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

So on a hazy morning, I walked in to Buu Dien. The lights were shut off and the room was illuminated solely by the blue overcast light from outside. There was an old TV blaring out headlines in Vietnamese and I could hear the quiet gurgling from the coffee maker nearby. A heated display case offered you its delicacies – cured pork balls, fried pork patties and banana-leaf wrapped goodies. Some signage on the wall colored in Vietnamese/French-like typography advertised the available drinks. A clock shaped into the country of Vietnam ticked away. There was another display case that stored various Vietnamese drinks, patés and Vietnamese meatloaf (cha lua). On top, there were packages of instant noodle bowls – I wondered who actually bought these. There were stools scattered around, like they had walked away from tables on their own. The tiles on the floor were slightly cracked and freshly mopped. All that was really missing were some red and blue plastic stools and napkins tossed all over the ground. This feels like Vietnam, and I already liked what was going on in here. This was your typical Vietnamese food establishment selling various culinary knick-knacks.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

And then an older man with glasses popped up from behind the counter and said hello. “Hi, how can I help you?” How about cooking me something delicious, I thought to myself. I ordered bun rieu and he smiled with surprise. There was another gentleman slurping down a bowl of bun rieu like he was in his happy little world. I took a seat and waited for my bun rieu.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Cha Chien/Hue
I sometimes think the Vietnamese can start their own fast-food like corporation by packing one of these patties in between some lettuce and bread, and sell it in some happy meal like form because this stuff is great. It's used in banh mi, in bun rieu and possibly as informal wedding dowry.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Nem Nuong
These are Vietnamese style meatballs that are cured and then either grilled or deep fried. Used mainly in sandwiches or eaten like a meatsicle.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Bun Rieu
My attention was averted when I heard the sound of approaching footsteps. Mr. Pham's slippers slid across that tiling, holding a tray full with everything I needed to get my meal on. There was the bowl of noodles gently breathing heat, a plate of lettuce, herbs and lemon and hot sauce. He placed everything on my tiny table and said "enjoy".

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

But before he could leave, I asked him about the missing component... shrimp paste (mam ruoc). He again looked at me like I was new to this delicious dish. I told him I can't eat it without my shrimp sauce. Most people have a love/hate relationship with this pungent, if that's even the right word, sauce made of ground fermented shrimp. Although we had the Lao version of this growing up, shrimp paste never failed in triggering a response in the form of a plugged nose, "eeeewwww" and a quick sprint for the hills. But I love it and have grown to love it the more I use it. Like it's good for my health. I cracked open the jar and it was almost done with. There was nothing but a plastic spoon cut off at the end to fit within the jar. I say you skip this part if you aren't ready to dip your own chopsticks or use the spoon provided to dig up that purple paste of pungency. But if you do, the addition of this sauce with some hot chili, lemon and herbs form yet another yin-yang relationship within Vietnamese food.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

There are many versions of bun rieu out there, the crab paste and snail ones being the most popular that I've seen. Here at Buu Dien, Mr. Pham's wife, Hen, does her with a huge piece of crab paste. Her mudball-like sculpture of crab, shrimp and pork is nothing short of delicious. As the crab paste sits in the soup, it soaks up the broth like a sponge – with every bite, more tasty and juicy than the other. I love this.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

Don't eat this naked. You must eat it with bean sprouts, lettuce and herbs. Squeeze of lemon.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

I learned that Mrs. Pham indeed makes all of her meat delicacies. This cha chien was delicious. It's no wonder her banh mi sandwiches are tasty as well. You throw this into any Subway sandwich and you'll finally have some flavor in your food.

Buu Dien, Chinatown Los Angeles - Bun Rieu

If I had not stopped here for banh mi sandwiches, I would not have found this. Finally a break from my usual soup noodles at New Kamara. And for $4, this only makes the meal that more special. It wasn't the best I've eaten, but still very good. I love Vien Dong in Little Saigon, for its dill fish cake patties and snails in their bun rieu, but this to me feels more home-cooked and reminiscent of the many soup noodles I ate on a red stool in Vietnam. All that was missing was some balled-up napkins on the floor, the constant sounds of motorcycle motors and honking and the sweat-inducing humidity. Thanks for reading.

Eat Drink Style Hello from Japan - My Yakitori Chicken Chart

Yakitori Chicken Chart

Hello from Japan! I haven't had time to upload the things we ate. It's been less than a day here in Tokyo and we've already eaten some amazing food including grilled ground chicken with torchoned cheese, flattened blocks of crispy gyoza and of course, orgasm-inducing Hakata-style ramen. Just wanted to share with you a very critical piece of food geekery. When in Japan, you're going to be eating the best yakitori ever, but how do you tell the waitress that you're more interested in trying chicken testicles than white breast meat? Or that you're ok without the chicken head mcnuggets? Feel free to use! More to come.

Eat Drink Style Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach Pier - Agedashi Tofu & the Japanese Fried Food Diet

IB Redondo Beach

Jeni and I have been eating more in the South Bay area since we started taking some classes over at Otis. She enrolled in a aluminum-foil-based class, Fashion with Foil, and I finally realized my dream in basketweaving, under water. All the blood, sweat, and tears from these extracurricular activities, as usual, leads to a loud, bellowing stomach that can only be shut up by savory food. So on this night, we found ourselves heading to the Redondo Beach pier to eat. Most people come here to taste the abundant offerings at places like Quality Seafood, an L-shaped market that is the modern age smorgasbord for Gods of the sea. You've got steamed dungeness crab, large conchs, about 36 types of oysters (30 which I've eaten in one sitting), shrimp, lobster, etc. While expensive, there's enough to leave any epicurean hot & bothered. And there's the highly-mentioned, Korean-owned Pacific Fish Center & Restaurant, with their admired crab soup. I've yet to try that. Thoughts on the soup?

When Jeni told me that we'd be eating at an izakaya at the Redondo Beach Pier, it took me a few seconds to register that – for it seemed a little non sequitur. Like finding a coupon for Osteria Mozza in the Penny Saver. Eating foie gras from a little ice cream store. And your first time seeing a Vietnamese pho restaurant in the middle of Koreatown. None of these make any sense.

For those too lazy to type up izakaya in wikipedia, I'll save you the trouble. Basically, it's a Japanese pub with all the shenanigans of drinking included. A place where sarariman, or in real English, "salary man" go to discuss charts and graphs over ice cold draft beer and savory skewered-meat and various small plates. Tough life! I remembered my trip to Osaka a few years back. We walked into a shopping center and found at least 3-4 izakayas that were packed to the brim. Almost all of the male clientele were still in their business suits chatting away. Keep in mind, that this was around 11:30 pm. These guys either got off just now or have been there since happy hour started.

But it's important to remember that the concept of an izakaya, with its mostly-male clientele and delicious food, really wouldn't exist if these had not been invented. Beer... and sake...

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

... two things that seem to be the common denominator for much of Japanese dining. I couldn't imagine eating sushi, yakitori and shabu shabu sans beer and sake. It's like driving a car with no wheels – you're ready for the ride, but you're not going anywhere.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

We walked into the tiny izakaya with no more than a 24 person capacity, and we were greeted by a smiley young chef that seemed to be the only employee in the restaurant. He walked out from the kitchen and quickly switched to server mode, passing out menus. He then walked back to the kitchen and proceeded to cook. I love double-duty people at restaurants – so hard-working. My friends and I once frequented this dive bar that deserved a shittier title than,
dive bar. The old, cigarette-wielding woman in the bar was not only making drinks and serving them. She was also the server and the chef. She probably had to clean up and close down the place too. Poor lady.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho is owned by Tomo Ueno from Tokyo. It used to be called Yakitori Bincho until the Health Taliban slapped Ueno's wrists for lack of ventilation. What a pity. Seems like one of the better places to get yakitori in LA is at Shin Sen Gumi. But not without walking away with bleeding ears. If you search for Yakitori Bincho on Yelp, you'll see that it is closed – so the review is completely useless because there is no more yakitori being offered. We were bummed to see on the menu, that there was really nothing skewered over hot charcoal. Oh, the pain...

But there was something else here in store for us that Jeni and the
Serial Ramen Killer had mentioned: the agedashi tofu, a dish that consists of fried potato starch-battered tofu cubes wading in a pool of soy sauce/mirin/dashi broth, topped with green onions and grated daikon.


Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Amuse Bouche from Tomo
Tomo started us out with a small Sanrio gift from the sea. A little package that included sliced octopus, pickles and seaweed.

Because there was an absence of yakitori, which is usually a major part of the izakaya experience, it seems Chef Tomo filled in the voids with quite a bit of fried appetizers. Usually I can only eat 2 types of fried dishes, as it gets too greasy, but I don't think we had much of an option besides ordering soups. So here begins the Japanese Fried Food Diet.


Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Potato Croquette (Korokke)
I like it when the sauce is nice and tangy. This was fried beautifully, but not really an appetizer I'm into. It reminds me of crabcakes – which I am quite sick of from my catering days.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Chicken Meatballs (Tsukune)
This is a popular yakitori dish – ground chicken mixed with soy sauce, mirin, ginger and green onions. Because Tomo is banned from grilling, he simply dunked these into the Fry-o-lator. And this is what emerges. Very good.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Chicken Wings
This was one of two highly recommended dishes by the chef. These were fried beautifully and glazed with the perfect amount of sauce. Nice job! Reminds of tasty Korean fried chicken.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Deep Fried Chicken Thigh
Hey, that rhymes. +10 points. This was the other dish Chef Tomo highly recommended. As you can see, it is fried beautifully and served upon a 'salad', which makes it look less unhealthy. I really enjoyed the flavoring and tenderness of this but I wish it wasn't fried as long. Good nonetheless.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Sea Spiders (Soft-Shell Crab)
What's not to like about Soft-Shell crabs, the ocean's most sensitive/tender/wimpy insects. If they stopped writing sappy poems, laid off the RomComs and Cheesy & Sleazy compilations, they'd increase their testosterone levels. These weren't bad.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Fried Tofu Cubes in Dashi Broth (Agedashi Tofu)
I have to admit that when I saw Chef Tomo take out the same brand of tofu I buy at the market, I didn't think it would taste too good. For some reason, I always think great chefs out there make their own haha. But when Chef Tomo served us the tofu, I knew I was wrong. The cubes were fried beautifully. It had a crisp texture, yet it was plump and bouncey once I pressed it with my chopsticks. The glistening broth had a delicate aroma of grated daikon and dashi. I watched Tomo, just before serving, boil the broth in a small pot – bringing it to a rigorous boil. I can't tell you how many times I've eaten 'flat' dashi at room temperature. It's terrible. This wasn't.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

We halved the tofu cubes with our chopsticks and watched as the starchy batter slowly ripped apart – in my opinion, a sign of nicely textured stuff. And man, this was so good. Every bite, piping hot with gooey, toothsome flavor. Outside of Japan, this is my favorite agedashi tofu.

Izakaya Bincho, Redondo Beach

Next time you're at the Redondo Beach pier and DON'T feel like dropping $40 for a dungeness crab served merely with butter and lemon, say hi to this kind gentleman. I give him respect for continuing to offer tasty
izakaya dishes even when the yakitori menu was stripped from him. Along with Asa Ramen and Ramen California, Yakitori Bincho is a nice addition to a South Bay Japanese-food crawl. Thanks to Tomo for facking derishus agedashi tofu and to you for reading.

Izakaya Bincho
112 N. International Boardwalk
Redondo Beach, CA 90277
(310) 376-3887