From Sichuan crab to Andong chicken, L.A. brings the heat.
It's easy to be overwhelmed by options in America’s most of-the-moment food city, even if you’re just looking for some good Asian food. You could easily eat at a different Asian restaurant every single day of the year in Los Angeles, and new spots are opening every single week. Here are five places that have blown us away on our recent Asian-food crawls.
Hip Hot has one of the best new lunch deals in L.A. The lunch sets at this Sichuan hot spot in the San Gabriel Valley start at $10.99, which gets you a taste of six different dishes. The $14.99 nine-dish set is a total steal with mung bean jelly noodles, cold spicy beef (including a bit of wonderful offal), sweet-and-sour ribs, clam-topped egg custard, wontons, pickles, cold noodles, fried rice and a brown sugar rice cake. We recommend sharing this lunch set and some seafood with a few hungry friends. That way, you can have an absolute feast for less than $25 a person.
Hip Hot’s Tiantian Qiu cooks Sichuan seafood dishes with nuance and grace. She’s a chef who recognizes the power of chiles and Sichuan peppercorns as she makes beautiful plates of whole Dungeness crab and lobster, but her balanced dishes aren’t about punching guests in the face with heat and mouth-numbing mala. If you order a big bowl of boiled fish filets laden with chiles and peppercorns, you’ll probably leave your meal raving about the delicate flavor and texture of every bite of fish.
Qiu plays the classics: Mapo tofu and dandan noodles are among her most popular dishes. She adds a sense of spectacle to her dining room by serving pineapple smoothies inside hollowed-out pineapples. During our recent visit, we asked for watermelon juice because we love watermelon juice and also because we had seen pictures of how Hip Hot’s watermelon juice involves a tap installed into a whole watermelon. It’s basically a watermelon keg! It wasn’t available last week because it’s a seasonal offering. Qiu’s commitment to serving ingredients only when they’re at their peak is commendable.
500 N. Atlantic Blvd., suite 149, Monterey Park, 626-782-7711
Lotus & Light
This modern Vietnamese restaurant in Burbank doesn’t seem to have a website or even a social media presence, but everyone from TV studio executives to pho completists has discovered its charms. Come to Lotus & Light (in a strip mall anchored by a Vons grocery store) for lunch, and you’ll see a packed room with four-tops sharing papaya salads, pork egg rolls, vermicelli bowls and steaming bowls of pho.
Plus, Lotus & Light’s Hainan chicken over rice, served with fresh condiments and soul-warming broth, is pure comfort day or night. If you want to go big, you can order giant charbroiled prawns with rice. Whether you come for lunch or dinner, the warm service and deep beverage menu (with Vietnamese coffee, Thai iced tea, butterfly pea lemonade, premium hot teas, wine and low-ABV cocktails) make Lotus & Light a total-package restaurant.
345 N. Pass Ave., Burbank, 818-562-7777
RBTA in Highland Park is where chef Justin Baey fires up the robata grill for dinner and serves skewers with top-tier ingredients like ribeye, miso black cod and spot prawns. This is a delightful restaurant where the avocado toast comes with crab or spicy tuna, where the whole blue prawn sashimi is topped with uni, where the uni pasta includes both fresh uni and uni butter cream.
Last week, RBTA started serving lunch, with a tight menu of donburi bowls made with Matsuri Super Premium rice. The katsudon with pork cutlets, soft-scrambled egg, onions, nori and red ginger is excellent, and the oyakodon with roasted chicken and the unadon with eel are also satisfying one-bowl meals. The other lunch option is a bowl of chashu ramen with tonkotsu broth. Lunch is already a scene here.
5629 ½ N. Figueroa St., Los Angeles, 323-259-6474
Khao soi, the northern Thai coconut curry soup that’s loaded with noodles, is an ultra-comforting dish that’s perfect for cold-weather days. Chiang Mai Urban Thai Kitchen in Valley Village might be the best place in all of L.A. to eat khao soi. Our favorite version at Chiang Mai is topped with crispy pork, and you can also get khao soi with a drumstick, white-meat chicken, braised beef, sausage, shrimp, tofu or vegetables.
Beyond all the khao soi, other standouts here include pork larb, spicy beef salad, crispy rice salad and a pork curry that’s full of braised belly. Pair your curry with purple sticky rice, as well as a purple butterfly pea drink, and color yourself happy.
12510 Burbank Blvd.,Valley Village, 818-763-9877
Would you like chicken or chicken? BongChu exuberantly serves one dish and only one dish: Andong braised chicken that pops with sweetness and spiciness. There’s a nice heat here that builds in your mouth as the meal progresses, so you have cooling watery radish kimchi on the side. Along with your choice of bone-in or boneless chicken, the big plates include potatoes and pleasantly chewy glass noodles that soak up all the flavors.
This is food designed for sharing: You can order “couple size” or “family size.” You can add rice cakes or mozzarella cheese. You can end your meal with scorched rice that’s stirred into whatever’s left in your plate.
There’s no alcohol or dessert at BongChu. Again, the chicken’s the thing. This is the first U.S. outpost of a restaurant that originated in Korea. It’s in the middle of L.A.’s Koreatown, of course.
3377 Wilshire Blvd., suite 100, Los Angeles, 213-263-2316