Places like Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand have become trendy travel destinations in the last decade or so. Similarly, the cuisine from these exotic countries has also been on the rise in the States. L.A.’s versions are unique due to the melting pot of influences in the mix — from Mexican to Korean to Californian cuisine. Without ever having to whip out your passport, you can easily dine your way through these far-flung comfort foods — from congee to bahn mi. Here are some of our favorites to try now.
E.P. & L.P.
Head chef Louis Tikaram cites personal influences for his bold menu at West Hollywood’s E.P & L.P. “I grew up with a Fijian-Indian grandfather and a Fijian-Chinese grandmother,” he says, “so all the dishes would have to be bold and flavorsome to stand up against one another to create a balanced menu. I use these same principles when designing my menu at E.P., drawing inspiration from my Fijian family, formal training in Australia and travels.”
And even though he’s only in his early 30s, Tikaram’s dishes have a depth and intelligence that far surpass his age. Whether you throw back a cold beer with a few curry-topped baby green lip abalone or have a multi-course dinner, you’re in for an incredible culinary tour of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. To boot, the cocktails are equally provocative. Black boba tea cocktail, anyone?
Coffee shop by day, modern Indonesian eatery by night, Venice Beach’s Wallflower is a deliciously diverse addition to Rose Avenue’s restaurant row. Growing up in Sumatra, Indonesia, chef Harryson Tobing serves his favorite childhood dishes with a California twist. The “Street Snacks” section of the menu features a delectable duck lumpia, which is wrapped in sorrel leaves rather than standard romaine. From the “Wok Toss” area, sample the lobster “bo luc loc” with house-made noodles; from the “Homecoming” portion go for the whole branzino, fried to perfection. And the lemongrass coconut panna cotta may have a standing invitation in your dreams. But whatever you decide on, Wallflower delivers an unforgettable dining experience.
Opened in Culver City in 2011 by the same man who dared refuse Angelenos ketchup on their burgers and fries (Father’s Office), Lukshon is a nod to chef Sang Yoon’s ancestral culinary roots. This upscale eatery in the Helms Bakery district melds Southeast Asian favorites and flavors with colonial cuisine from the French and Portuguese.
Some of the chef’s favorites are the lobster roll banh mi and the Sichuan dumpling dish. The bar offerings only continue the theme. Try the hot and sour vodka gimlet, the five-spice mai tai or any of the selections from the world-spanning wine list.
From doing stints in the kitchen at SLS Hotel at Beverly Hill’s Bazaar by José Andrés to traveling through Thailand on a four-year culinary research trip, chef Shawn Pham is skilled at delivering playful, creative Southeast Asian dishes. (FYI, don’t expect your basic pad thai!)
Located in a rather hidden enclave of Little Toyko in Downtown L.A., Simbal standouts include crispy tofu with chili flake sauce, smoked eggplant and crispy rice (you’ll want to add the fried egg); the roasted bone marrow served with a Chinese doughnut and chili jam; and wild octopus, grilled atop glass noodles and seasoned with a tamarind dressing.
For drinks, in addition to the rare wine offerings (everything from Grecian to Austrian bottles), don’t miss trying the house-made rosemary-pineapple shrub soda.
As the second outpost of Manhattan Beach’s Little Sister, this slick Vietnamese-centric hot spot downtown is simultaneously hip and staunchly traditional. The vibe is fun and boisterous within a sleek modern setting and a happening bar.
Chef Tin Vuong’s menu, however, takes a purist (no fusion) approach. Standouts are the papaya salad topped with Vietnamese beef jerky, the ga xao xa ot lemongrass chicken (fried chicken tossed with herbs and fried garlic) and the Myanmar okra curry with six-spice seasoning.
Hot tip: If you have no idea what to order because everything looks unfamiliar, just ask your neighbors for recommendations. Little Sister has an enthusiastic crowd of regulars who can help you decide between the beef shank hot pot or the salt-and-pepper lobster.