Trust Me at Sugarfish, Los Angeles

One of the other lunches I got to enjoy while on my recent trip to LA was the Trust Me at Sugarfish. You can order some items a la carte, but the best option will be to order some of the omakase set menus where they decide what to serve best based on what is fresh and in season. All the sushi at Sugarfish is traditional, so don’t expect crazy combinations and sauces, there are no fancy rolls, including no California Rolls. Just simple sushi and hand rolls. I ate little slices of ginger and a smear of wasabi but never needed or even poured a drop of soy sauce.
We ordered the Nozawa, or Trust Me at Sugarfish Nozawa, or Trust Me at Sugarfish with courses of Organic Edamame, Tuna Sashimi, Albacore Sushi, Salmon Sushi, Yellowtail Sushi, Harame Sushi, Snapper Sushi, a Daily Special, Toro Hand Roll, Blue Crab Hand Roll

We each ordered The Nozawa, the Trust Me. At $37, it is the most expensive of the three options (the other two are the Trust Me and the Trust Me Lite, which take out the Daily Special, Snapper sushi, or more for the Lite so that there are less courses.). But, for the amount you get and quality it is very reasonable. And lunch is the best deal, the same menu is more expensive at dinner or without the special for the to go version. After my sister birthed my niece, Trust Me at Sugarfish To Go was her choice after denying herself sushi all that time… how cool is the to go box?

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Isaan Station in Los Angeles and Advice for ordering from a Thai menu

For today’s Travel Tuesday I am taking you to Los Angeles, California, and sharing you my strong recommendation when in LA to visit Thai Town. Have you heard of Thai Town? Located within central LA and centered generally on Hollywood and Sunset Boulevards and Western Avenue, this area is the only Thai ethnic neighborhood in the US. It’s basically a Thai version of what many metropolitan cities have as a Chinatown. LA is the home to the largest Thai population besides Thailand itself – it seems Thais have been immigrating and living in this other City of Angels (Bangkok, capital of Thailand, also translates to City of Angels) since the 1960s.

Whenever I visit LA and my sister, there is always inevitably a stop in Thai Town. It’s the closest thing to eating food in the same exact flavor profiles of flying 16-17 hours to the other side of the world (or alternatively getting a Thai mom or auntie to make what specific dish she is known for while hearing how you may have gained weight or need to exercise while simultaneously getting unasked for food put on your plate and encouraged to eat more).

A few weeks ago, when I was in LA, that stop in Thai Town for my trip was at Isaan Station. Ok, their location of which is probably technically in the bordering Koreatown, but let’s move on from geography shall we.

Isaan means “Northeast” in Thai, so this Thai restaurant specialize in Northeast Thai cuisine (most Thai restaurants serve Central Region food, with the other popular region being Northern Thai food). Isaan food is less Chinese influenced then Central and Northern Thai food and leans more towards Laos and Cambodia. Sticky rice and being very spicy are particularly recognizable as a common hallmark of Isaan food.

So no surprise when you look at the big laminated menu of Isaan Station and see the words “All Dishes Good With Sticky Rice” and a warning of “Please let us know what style of level of spiciness you prefer” along with “If you have allergies or fear please ask for a list of ingredients”.

Seriously though, be careful how spicy you make the ingredients because they really do make it spicy – what Isaan Station calls medium is the hot spicy level of most Thai restaurants.

When reading a Thai menu, my advice is to first read through and see what items you see that you don’t normally see on other menus. Sure, Isaan Station has Pad Thai and Pad See Eew and Pad Kee Mao and Pad Kra Prao, those common Thai dishes. But, the menu has a whole section called Som Dtum (also commonly seen as Som Tum) that offers 7 versions of this spicy but sweet shredded papaya salad. The additions in the various dishes include salted egg, pickled blue crab, fermented fish- lots of funky fun. That’s a sign.
Som Dum or Som Tum Thai, a green papaya salad with peanuts and dried shrimps, both spicy and slightly sweet from Isaan Station in LA

Isaan Station also has a whole section called Larb Nham Dtok offering 7 kinds beef, pork, and chicken dishes, though most of it is pork. Larb is a spicy minced meat salad (pretty much all meat, despite the salad term which is what the Thai word Larb means). Nham Dtok means waterfall, referring to the the juices running like a waterfall from the meat.

You should also not expect a traditional salad of greens from Isaan Station’s other section Thai Salad (Yum), as these are also all boasting meat or Seafood. Yum here is not am adjective meaning delicious but a Thai word that refers to a type of Thai dish that has lots of lime and chili in so it’s a bit more sour with your spicy food.

Below, Larb Woon Sen of spicy glass noodle with minced pork, red onion, mint leaves, lime, rice powder, cilantro, coriander and green onion. Larb is the minced pork meat, and Woon Sen is the glass noodles. So good!
Larb Woon Sen at Isaan Station in LA, a dish of spicy glass noodle with minced pork, red onion, mint leaves, lime, rice powder, cilantro, coriander and green onion

An unexpected surprise at Isaan Station is that they also serve Thai Street Food. I’m always drawn to this section of a menu if I see it in any Thai restaurant. Here at Isaan Station this refers to a lot of charcoal and deep fried meat dishes you can find in the Grilled and Deep Fried section of their menu – you probably have not seen some of these dishes before listed. On Thailand these were grilled on the street, enticing you from many blocks away like those aroma hands that tickle your nose and float you towards them, like in Looney Toon cartoons. I was most thrilled about the Kohr Moo Yang, a charcoal grilled pork neck (we also had  the Crying Tiger charcoal grilled beef and the Khai Yang Ob Oong charcoal grilled tumeric marinated chicken).
Kohr Moo Yang, Charcoal grilled pork neck. From Isaan Station in LA Crying Tiger, Charcoal grilled beef tenderloin from Isaan Station in LA Khai Yang Ob Oong, a charcoal grilled tumeric marinated chicken at Isaan Station in LA

But we were all taken aback at the table by how delicious the Mhu Daad Diew, a marinated pork sirlion that is first air dried (almost like jerky in chewiness) and then deep fried to crispiness. We ended up ordering and finishing 2 dishes of it, no problem. Definitely must order again and again.
Nua Daahd Diew, a marinated sirloin dish air dried and deep fried from Isaan Station

When ordering the Khao Niew sticky rice accompaniment, you generally want 1 basket for every 1-2 person, depending on how much rice each person is planning to eat. The rice is going to usually come in a little steamer basket as shown below (behind the Sai Grok Isaan, a homemade sausage of fermented pork and glutinous rice – the sausage is not something I would order again as other dishes had more flavor). When you open the little basket, you’ll find all the sticky rice balled in a little plastic bag that you then squeeze out the portion of rice you want onto your plate.

I like eating sticky rice with my hands where almost like a combination of sushi, I smush the grilled meat of my choice with the morsel of sticky rice in my fingers and eat them together. Another option is to eat a forkful of meat, in your fingers with the rolled morsel of sticky rice dip it into the chili sauce the shared plate, and then pop that in after chewing the meat.
Sai Grok Isaan, deep fried sausages of fermented pork and glutinous rice eaten with a basket of sticky rice (behind) at Isaan Station in LA

For fun, consider the sweet Honey Toast dessert. You have to order it ahead of time as it takes 30 minutes to prepare in the kitchen, but it’s a mix of doughy softness inside the toast with crispness and sugar and honey along with cold ice cream (your choice of vanilla and or chocolate – we went with all vanilla). This is enough for 4 people.
Honey Toast dessert from Isaan Station in LA Honey Toast dessert from Isaan Station in LA

Isaan Station is unfortunately Cash Only – there is an ATM outside to use if you need it. There is a very small parking lot since they are in a strip mall, but that lot can get full (and it’s only valet in that lot, not self parking, but it’s free) so you might have to do street parking. They have dine in, take out, online ordering off their website and free delivery within a 2 mile radius.

Isaan Station on Urbanspoon

One last tip: follow the crowds or particularly in LA Thai Town or any of its great ethnic neighborhoods what restaurants have people waiting and parking is full as that’s also usually a sign. Go where the locals are lining up!

Have you ever had any of these dishes or been to Thai Town in LA? What is generally the go to Thai dish you like to order, or the Thai dish you sometimes crave?

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