As promised, here is a report from my recent trip to the LA area, in which three long days at the Anaheim Marriott (don't ask) were enlivened by great chow!
1. Pho 97 (near intersection of Bolsa and Brookhurst). Well. Sadly, I haven't had a tremendous amount of pho in my life. I ordered the pho with rare beef, well-cooked beef, and tripe. It was awesome, the best bowl of pho I've ever had. The broth was rich, full-flavored, and fantastic with just a squeeze of lime, lots of herbs, and a few fresh chiles (for a nice little kick, put your spoon directly over a slice of chile, so that the broth filters through the chile as it fills the spoon). The broth did not need to be doctored up with condiments. The beef was tasty and tender. The tripe had great chewy texture. The noodles still had a little bite. Just a great bowl of soup. Grilled pork spring rolls were also enjoyed by all.
2. Thai Nakorn (Garden Grove near Harbor Blvd. -- quite close to the hotel). We ordered nam sod with crispy rice and really enjoyed it. Very limey! I also asked for them to make it spicy and it came with lots of small, whole toasted chiles, which added a great smoky-spicy flavor. The nam sod came with greens on the side, including an unusual one I couldn't place and don't know the name of -- it had a leaf like a long isoceles triangle and a lemony flavor -- anybody know what this is called? We also had the tom kha soup (laotian chicken coconut soup). I thought it was perhaps a tad sweet and very coconutty but it had a good sourness as well and overall was very tasty. It really good with a little rice mixed in. I liked this restaurant very much and found the food quite authentic and almost as good as in Thailand. Portions were large.
3. Thanh My. Here I had broken rice, which is rice in which the grain has been split in two before cooking. My rice was topped with a lot of different things: shredded pork (too dry), grilled shrimp (tasty, tender & sweet), ground shrimp wrapped in bean curd and fried (like a dim sum dish), and that pork-and-rice-noodle omelette. I would describe the food as competently prepared but not earth-shattering.
4. The Boiling Crab (in a strip mall on Euclid). OK -- this place was a lot of fun. A tiny New Orleans-style crawfish place decorated with a nautical theme. It is entirely populated by Vietnamese kids! What a trip. When you sit down, the table is covered with butcher paper and they bring you a roll of paper towels and tie a plastic bib around your neck. The bib is definitely necessary. For four people we ordered 3 pounds of crawfish & 1 pound of shrimp with the "ragin cajun" seasoning, medium spicy (which was actually spicy enough after a while). They bring it out all mixed together in a big plastic bag, with some corn and sausage mixed in. You sit there and peel your spicy shrimp and crawfish and eat and drink beer and throw your shells in a pile on the table. You can get extra corn, sausage, and potatoes if you want a heartier meal (we had previously eaten elsewhere and were there more for a snack, albeit a hefty one). Some tables choose to pile their shells together in the middle, and some create individual piles for each diner (that way is good for those of us with a competitive spirit!). We also tried some oysters, which were unexceptional gulf style oysters, big & not too briny, though they were fresh. I thought it was actually pretty tasty, and the atmosphere definitely made this a place worth checking out. Oh - and they will also bring you little plastic containers of salt and pepper and a bunch of limes, which you mix together to create a little dipping sauce. Highly recommended with the shrimp. The only downside to this place was the liberal use of styrofoam.
5. Brodard Restaurant (also known as Nam Neung). This place is famous for its grilled pork spring rolls, which come with a little bit of cripsy wonton skin inside. We also shared a roast duck salad. I thought everything was fine. It was hard for me to judge fairly because I ordered the food to go and ate it at room temperature a few hours later.
Other old favorites visited during my LA adventures:
Sanamluang Cafe for chinese broccoli with crispy pork over rice. (this is an excellent dish, and the broccoli has great wok hay, or at least it did when I was there a week ago).
Zankou Chicken -- visited twice! Once for the half chicken with garlic sauce and once for the amazing tarna sandwich.
Hollywood Farmers Market -- I love, love, love this farmers market. I bought a ton of incredible fruit to eat throughout the week - including sweet, ripe peaches like we never see on the East Coast (not even at the Union Square Greenmarket, which I also love) and oranges and avocados fresh off the tree. Sigh. And the pupusas from the stand in the middle are so, so good. (I am partial to the squash, mushroom, & cheese variety.)
La Luz del Dia -- I couldn't leave town without stopping by this Olvera Street classic for a side of carnitas, fresh corn tortillas, and a small cactus salad. Maybe it's not the best carnitas in town, but it's the carnitas I ate about once a week for a year, the carnitas I miss the most, and you know what? It tasted pretty damn good.