I think too often I post about a place after first finding it, but not after eating at it for years. So: Ruen Pair, which I have eaten at perhaps more than any other place in L.A. It has slowly become my favorite restaurant in Thai Town - second only to the beloved Renu Nakorn, but more reliable - I've had bad meals at Renu Nakorn, especially arriving towards the end of the day on an off day. But Ruen Pair has always been straight and true, even at 3 AM. Especially at 3 AM. It's always packed at 3 AM.
(Note: I have had many visits to other Thai restaurants in Thai Town. Sunshine is alright and homey, Palm Thai is in a slump, and I do love Sam'sLung, but this is my favorite. The only other place I know in a class with Ruen Pair is the buddhist temple in North Hollywood.)
After having toured much of the menu, my favorite things are:
Fried green mussels: in a light egg batter, with a spicy sweet sauce. Having an unexpected mussel burst out all sea-tasting out of the crisp batter is a blast. I had a Romanian woman kick me in the nubblies to get the last one of these. The goodness depends a little on the mussels' quality - they're down right now. Always good, sometimes spectacular.
Spicy combination salad. I think somebody on this board was saying a while ago that too many Americanized places stress just the sweet and spicy side of Thai cuisine, while the full essence-of-Thailand is sweet, spicy, vinegary, gingery. Always in balance. Some dishes are calm in their balance at R.P. This one is - searing. It is: raw ginger, mustard pickle [I think], very salty and deeply tasty Chinese sausage - chewy, preserved duck's egg - which is as mind-bendingly salty as you could imagine, and the salt somehow concentrates the flavor of the duck's egg yolk, this is heart-stoppingly intense, and a gelatinous 1000-year-old egg. With little bits of dried shrimp. This is overwhelming. This is good when you're drunk and it's 3:30 AM and there are Thai people screaming behind you over the World Cup. This is good for lunch. This is good ALL THE TIME.
It is not, however, subtle. Complicated, yes. Glorious, yes. Subtle - no.
Vermicelli noodle soup with stuffed tofu. Absolutely lovely. A challenge to the Sam'sLung chicken broth royal crown. Deep soup, with tender little tiny noodles, and... man. It's satisfying. A nice complement to the combination salad - harmony, but quiet and warm.
Duck soup: when you really feel like duck. The duck has been roasted, skin is sweet with some marinade, and the flavor has been pulled out and mingled with the broth. Not as perfect as the above soup, but lovely.
The crispy fish salad is very... crispy. And intense.
Chinese broccoli with crispy pork. Hands off to the mad romanian, who discovered this dish. The broccoli is crisp and bursts with a kind of low, wide green flavor. And the pork is - infrequent, fatty, crispy, and good.
For a drink: young coconut juice.
The bad things here are all the bangkok-ish dishes - the curries, the pad thai, the stir-fried noodles. THey're all kind of greasy and blah.