You might be wondering what Pamom Thai (14072 Vanowen St, Van Nuys, (818) 908-0458, 165 bus along Vanowen, or walking distance from the 156, 426, 233, or 561 along Van Nuys Blvd) and Huston's Texas Pit BBQ (1620 N. Cahuenga Blvd near Hollywood Blvd, (323) 464-3972, Hollywood/Vine Red Line stop) have in common. Here's what:
1. I've been wondering about them for a long time.
2. They're both places you want to like, Pamom because it promises Issan food without having to go to places like Norwalk, and Huston's because it looks like the last remaining Hollywood storefront from 1940 and is close to things like the Catalina Bar and Grill.
3. They were both empty when I was eating in them, Pamom for an early weekday lunch and Huston's on a busy Friday night.
4. Their food ends up being disappointing -- okay, not offensive, but not remotely in the same league as their best-in-class competitors, Renu Nakorn and Woody's.
Here are the specifics:
Pamom is a pleasant enough place, considering that it's Van Nuys, decorated with Buddhist shrines and portraits of Thai royalty. I explained to the waiter at great length that I wanted real Issan food, not tourist stuff, and very spicy, and no coconut milk or shellfish. I'm not sure whether his English was up to that level or not. In any event, after extensive negotiation, in which it transpired that they were out of things like catfish and Thai sausage and hadn't prepared the sticky rice yet for the day, I ended up with chicken soup and a duck salad. The soup had chunks of chicken with some chilis and some other things. The broth was kind of pleasant and spicy, but there was nothing especially creative about it. The salad was a real disappointment, iceberg lettuce slathered with oil and vinegar and some veggies and chilis, about 10% different from the side salad in a standard-issue Italian place. The main outcome was that I was awed all over again at how good Renu Nakorn is.
Huston's is a shack that looks like a place where bikers hang out, and as Hollywood gets redeveloped it looks more and more out of place. The proprietors were solicitous to the point of seeming desperate. I ordered a half-slab of pork ribs with hot sauce. The ribs were fairly good, but the meat had the tell-tale "crust" on it that said they'd been sitting around getting warmed and rewarmed for a bit longer than they should. The sauce was kind of unique. It reminded me of the chili sauce you get in some Vietnamese restaurants, the kind that comes in transparent squeeze bottles, bright red verging on orange with lots of chili seeds. I wasn't getting a strong sense of organic connection between the meat and sauce, though, and while I ended up with a decent burn, I didn't feel like I was in deepest barbeque-land.
Okay, so two restaurants I really wanted to like turned out to be ordinary. My illusions are shattered. But tomorrow is another day, and I'm itching to do a back-to-back comparison of Renu Nakorn and Thai Nakorn, which turn out to be on the same bus line!