Night Fever. Street Food on Sunset Blvd. Night+Market Thai Street Food. West Hollywood, CA.
The neon means the grub's on!
Some restaurants as of late are comin' off like rappers claimin' they're street when they're just hoppin' on the street food chow wagon. Perpetratin' with meager, played-out offerings listed on the menu's sidebar. Even the most casual of diners can spot a wickity-wack "bulgogi" taco or bogus "bánh mi" frontin' on the same menu section as the sliders and mac n' cheeze at the gastropub du jour.
If I see another Korean taco on a bar bites menu, Imma bust a cap in someone's ass!!!
Pardon me for exorcising my inner Gangsta MC. I'm currently in anger management.
However, when you come across something so authentic, food so soulful and unpretentious yet extraordinary that the only reaction you can muster after eating are a few bewildered blinks and a satisfied grin, you can only rage against the posers.
Real street food transports you. In Los Angeles, authentic international street food is abundant if you just look around: Taiwanese stinky tofu stalls in Rowland Heights, MacArthur Park's gooey and gluttonous Salvadorean pupusas constructed by street vendors, the crispy and fluffy Middle Eastern falafels all over the Valley to deliciously portable Belgian fries in Eagle Rock. But, arguably, some of the best and most popular street food comes from Thailand and a few of the tastiest, most interesting items can be discovered at an annex to the venerated Thai food restaurant on Sunset Boulevard, Talesai Thai.
Night + Market Thai Street Food is the eatery's full moniker but Night Market is what the owner and chef, Kris Yenbamroong, calls it.
Yenbamroong is a famous name in the Thai community as well as in the local restaurant scene. In the early '80s Kris' father and grandmother started the original Talesai on Sunset Boulevard and introduced pad thai to the rock n' roll stretch of the Sunset Strip.
Although animal print spandex and head banger hair can now only be seen on VH1 retro shows, Talesai continues to expand its culinary influences, this time with humble and satisfying street food in its Night Market extension.
The journey to truly fulfilling Thai street food is just through the curtains to your right once you enter Talesai. In an austere dining room, a random video is projected, perhaps some esoteric piece that Kris found amusing during his media study days in New York.
The bespectacled chef/owner is reminiscent of a young Spike Lee but of Thai descent. He's soft spoken however there's an attitude lurking and it comes out in the food.
An indoor picnic.
Kris has scoured much of the Northern portion of Thailand for the best representation of his country's rustic cooking. From the back alleys to the main boulevards, he asked, observed and ate all that is Thai street food.
Like any great meal, this one is loosed with libations. The Thai Martini made with Belvedere and kissed with lychee is simple and sweet.
The Mekong Old Fashioned is both colorful to the eyes and mouth. It's refreshing and intoxicating, fruity and edgy — an exciting indicator of things to come.
The Mighty Mekong!
Chicken wings are usually good whatever form they take but combine them with fermented fish sauce, and you're as golden as the crispy, salty, deeply seasoned skin. Dip the Nuoc Mam Chicken Wings into the accompanying sweet and spicy "rooster sauce" for a sort of Thai Buffalo wing experience.
Looks like chicken, tastes like fish.
Lots of people like pork, but lots of the pork is not eaten by people or utilized in cooking. For Night Market, Kris embraces the the whole pig and all its offals, nasty bits, toss aways, meat miscellany and the Deep End Dining delights.
Pork Toro aka Grilled Fatty Hog Collar is just as it sounds — piggy, fatty goodness. It is all about unctuous, crispy, charred, sweet and smoky bits of uncommon pig part. The emphasis is on the fat although there is a denseness to hog collar which translates into a firm texture rather than simply fatty. It's guilt-ridden and primitively satiating.
Chew the fat!
Pig ears are a favorite of mine. When rendered edible and delicious, they become the height of rustic food. Night Market does them two ways: deep fried and braised.
My absolute favorite Night Market pork plate was the Pig Ear & Chile & Garlic. Normally, this type of braised pig ear at a Sichuan restaurant would be under the "small eats" category, served cold with a slippery, rubbery and crunchy texture.
Night Market's pig ear is like a wonderful, greasy serving of chow fun noodles. It slurps rather than chews. Goes down easy with a spicy sting and is perfect with a Singha Beer. Fused with bright Thai herb flavors and lots of the infamous Thai chile heat, be careful of taking one of the peppers head on or it'll be more than burning ears for you.
Next came the other ear, the Fried Pig Ear. This time the ear strips were deep fried in a tempura batter resulting in light, crispy and tender ear so good you could eat a Costco bag full of them.
Fried ear: sounds as good as it tastes.
People talk about "nose to tail" eating all the time, but seldom is it meant to be so "on the nose". Although no nose was eaten at Night Market, there was plenty of tail.
Thick curls of golden brown Fried Pig Tail dolloped with a potent pepper sauce was a feast for the eyes. Biting into them released a hallelujah chorus of pork flesh, carlilage and, above all, fat. The spicy burn was always nearby, reminding you that this is down home authentic Thai food.
Tail worth chasing.
Kao Kluk Gapi may have a cacophonous ring to the Western ear but the flavors of this dynamic dish is a symphony. A mound of shrimp paste fried rice buried under segregated sections of miniature salty dried shrimp, sweet candied pork, shredded omelet, red onion, green mango, cilantro, fierce and fiery Thai bird's eye chiles is mixed tableside then dished up, mingling all the flavors and dazzling every part of your mouth. Each bite is delicious, dynamic and distinct.
A mountain of flavors.
Street food wouldn't be street food without skewered meat. The Pork Satay Skewers "bathed in condensed milk, grilled" are tasty but standard. Nice smoky and charred flavors and one of the non-spicy items.
The unique flavor find of the night could only be the Sour Isaan Sausage or Sai Krok Isaan "grilled fermented pork sausage. w/ bird eye chile, cabbage". If you're not accustomed to this round (almost meatball-esque) sausage, you'd think there was something amiss about it because of the sour taste. That tangy flavor is from the 1 to 2 day fermentation process. Grilling these sour balls of pork only intensifies the flavor by contrasting it with the smokiness from the char. With its singular flavor profile, Sour Isaan Sausage is unforgettably delicious.
Sour balls not available at the candy store.
Like a Thai chorizo, the Sai Uah or Chiengrai Herbed Sausage had a loose, coarse consistency. Served with "noom salsa and cucumber", this spicy and fragrant sausage grabs a hold of your taste buds and refuses to let go.
Open up and Sai, "Uah!"
The first seafood plate of the night called Hor Ab or Catfish Tamale is a "catfish baked in banana leaf w/ chile & herbs" that evoked the tropical climate of Thailand. The moist mash of fish flesh pocked with herbs and peppers was a kaleidoscope of flavors including the fresh, grassy aroma of the banana leaf, although the pepper's heat dominated.
Something fishy is inside...
What's a masa with this tamale?
Larb is a Laotian minced meat salad dish that is also associated with Northeastern Thai or Isan cuisine. The Larb Gai at Night Market is a traditional version made with "minced chicken, lime, fish sauce, rice powder, chile, cliantro, onion" and mint. It was tasty but would've been tastier if I wasn't reaching full stomach capacity.
The heat was relentless. Kua Gling aka Border Beef is "tendertail w/mortar-pounded southern chile paste." Finessed with silken shreds of kaffir lime leaves procured from the eatery's garden and cloaked in a chile paste inferno, the Border Beef made a final assault on my tongue. The sweat on my forehead leaked into my eyes and obscured my vision. I continued eating, blinded by sweat, tears and Thai chile fumes. Was there "tendertail" underneath all the heat? I could only trust the chef that there was because I couldn't taste anything but the devil's marinade.
Tender as molten lava.
There was ultimately salvation in the form of dessert. Like an ice cream truck's tinny tune squeaking out a dented loudspeaker calling the neighborhood kids, bringing them relief from a blazing summer sun, Kris brought out coconut ice cream scooped between two pieces of toast. Get it? An Ice Cream Sandwich.
Yes, Kris took the figurative and made it literal...literally delicious! Cool, creamy coconut ice cream plopped on top of dulcet, warm sticky rice that's been drenched with a duo of condensed and evaporated milk and sprinkled with toasted mung beans then finally stuffed between grilled, sweet pan de leche. It tastes as good as it sounds. Both rough and refined, this "ice cream sandwich" is one of the best in town.
Ice cream sandwich. Hold the mayo.
There is nothing shy about real street food. It must be bold to punch through all the noise and distractions. All the hustlers, hotties, clubs, cafés, junkies, cabbies, bums, music, heat, rain trying to get your attention. In one bite, good street food will give you a quick backhand then stroke you for hanging around for the next taste.
The food at Night+Market is no different from the Isan grub you can grab on or off the streets in Northeastern Thailand. In LA, the biggest flavors in town just happens to be at Night+Market on Sunset Boulevard, one of the biggest streets on the planet.
If it's street food you want, Night+Market owns it for now. The math is simple. Night+Market = the most exciting street food in Los Angeles.
Night+Market Thai Street Food
9043 Sunset Blvd.
West Hollywood, CA 90069
(enter thru TALESAI...Night+Market is behind the curtain next to the bar...)
6PM - 11PM Nightly
Valet Parking $4.5