A food writer friend is coming to L.A. this week and asked for my tips on where to eat (specifically, Mexican and Thai restaurants). For Mexican, I expressed my love for Loteria and my admiration for La Casita Mexicana; for Thai, I brought up Jitlada and Saap and Pa-Ord but finished my sentence by recommending Night + Market, where I ate this past Saturday, as “my favorite Thai meal I’ve had so far in L.A.”
If you follow food people on Twitter, you may have observed Rene Redzeppi–chef of Noma, the world’s best restaurant (according to Restaurant Magazine)–visiting Night + Market when he came to lecture at UCLA; same for David Chang when he came to town too.
You’d think with the buzz this place gets it’d be as packed as a hive on a Saturday night. Not so:
We had some theories about this. L.A. people aren’t as fanatical about under-the-radar restaurants as New York people? Or, if they are, it’s less about the food than it is the scene?
Either way, it’s good for those of us who let our stomachs–not our vanity–guide the way on a Saturday night. Because no vain person is going to start out their evening with fried pig’s tails like we did:
These things are so unreal, so addictively wonderful–crispy, fatty, coated in a sweet and spicy sauce–you might seriously want to get on a plane right now to fly out to California to experience them. They’d be worth a trip. Even worth taking an apartment here.
And this crispy rice salad, with its cereal like puffed rice and extraordinary balance of heat and acidity, might be worth you getting a California driver’s license so you can drive to Night + Market on a regular basis:
This papaya salad may look innocent enough, but one hit of chile and you’re going to be clawing the walls in a fit of both agony and ecstasy:
Thank God for this sweet coconut rice to rescue your mouth:
But it’s only a temporary rescue. Out comes the whole fried fish coated in a sweet and spicy sauce and a mountain of venomous bird’s eye chilies:
Craig was smart enough to pluck the chilies off each bite before going for it; me? I figured, “what the hell?” and if you’d taken a hot poker and jabbed it through my tongue, it would’ve been a vacation compared to the sensation of that bird’s eye chili singing its way into my tongue.
And yet, strangely, I loved it. Is that the definition of culinary masochism? Torturing your mouth for a thrill?
Thankfully, this whole braised pork hock wasn’t spicy at all:
This was more sweet/savory, with great depth of flavor; the meat spoon-tender, falling apart with very little prodding at all.
And these noodles–Drunken Noodles with Short Ribs–filled in any spaces in our stomachs that weren’t already full of pig or heat-seeking chile missiles:
Dessert at Night + Market is very literal: the ice cream sandwich is really an ice cream sandwich.
That’s a scoop of coconut ice cream in between two slices of grilled bread. And somehow that combination, as strange as it may sound (and look), is hypnotic. The grilled flavor of the bread pairs terrifically with the creaminess of the coconut ice cream.
The other dessert we tried, mango with sticky rice, really hit the spot after this meal:
I loved how the salty rice placed off the sweet fruit.
And so it was that we finished this meal at a restaurant that has more in common with a theme park ride (think: Tatsu) than any joint with a white tablecloth.
As we left, we saw tight-panted hipsters and glammy girls headed up the street to places like The Roxy and The Viper Room. (Night + Market isn’t a Thai Town Thai restaurant; it’s hidden away inside a more conventional Thai restaurant on the Sunset Strip). As old and unhip as it made me feel, I have no doubt that the real rock n’roll experience had already just happened…it happened in our mouths.