Lacha Somtum (Los Angeles, 2015 & 2016)

Lacha Somtum: Papaya Salad with Blue Crab
Though I am currently in Delhi I still have a couple of Los Angeles meal reports in hand and so I’m going to sandwich them around another Delhi report this week before turning to Delhi and then Hong Kong reports in the next couple of weeks. First up is a brief writeup of two meals at Lacha Somtum, eaten a few months apart. The first one was eaten last summer but by the time I got around to starting to write it up it was so far in the rear-view mirror that I decided to wait till the next trip to eat there again and post on more of the menu. That time is now. There were just the two of us at the first meal (a lunch), and we kept it light on account of needing to board a flight very soon after; at the second meal (a dinner) we were joined by Sku and family and we got a lot more stuff. Both meals were quite good. 

I gather the excitement about Lacha Somtum, which opened about two years ago, and their Isaan-centered menu has abated somewhat: fickle L.A. foodies seem to have moved on, first to Isaan Station and then to Luv2Eat. While I wouldn’t say that I liked either of our Lacha Somtum meals quite as much as my three meals at Isaan Station last year or our excellent lunch at Luv2Eat on this trip, it’s still very good and I would happily eat there again. What I won’t do again, however, is eat dinner there at 6 pm on a weeknight as we did on the second occasion: parking was, predictably, a nightmare, with every meter for blocks taken and every side-street permit-only. After a lot of driving around we lucked into a meter that opened up right in front of the restaurant (this was Sku and co.’s experience as well) but I have to imagine their weeknight custom is hugely impacted by this situation—meanwhile Thai Ocha a block away on Sunset had lines out the door thanks to strip mall parking…

The restaurant is a nice, bright space, with tables spaced well apart. It’s not quite Szechuan Impression-stylish but it’s very far away from the merely functional aesthetic of most Thai Town regulars. Service was attentive and friendly on both occasions as well and our servers were very fluent in English. One minor complaint I have is that in English the menu presents only translated descriptions of most of the dishes rather than their Thai names; so if you’re looking to try an Isaan dish you’ve heard of by name you’re going to be in trouble if you don’t also know what’s in it: so, if you’ve heard people talking about Tom Saab you’d need to know that it’s the “Spicy Pork Ribs Soup” on their menu. I suppose you could ask your server what the Thai names of dishes are but that might get a bit unwieldy.

What did we eat across the two meals?

  • Chicken Satay for the boys
  • Esaan Sausage
  • Papaya Salad with Blue Crab
  • Spicy Bamboo Shoot Salad.
  • Deep Fried Trout.
  • Crispy Chicken Wings.
  • Grilled Pork.
  • Duck Larb.
  • Steamed Mussels.
  • Crispy Mussels with Bean Sprout Pancake.
  • Spicy Pork Ribs Soup
  • Spaghetti with Clams

Please click on an image below to launch a slideshow with brief descriptions.

I would say the standouts were the duck larb, the bamboo shoot salad, the deep fried trout, the papaya salad and the mussels-pancake thing. Prices are a little bit higher than the Thai Town average but nothing close to outrageous. As I said, both meals were quite good and I’d be happy to eat here again, particularly to explore their papaya salads more fully. For those with not too many meals to spare in L.A., however, I’d probably suggest going to Jitlada, Luv2Eat and Isaan Station first.

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