A largely Thai clientele—always a good sign—dines on a menu of $2.99 small plates, featuring skewered meatballs, Thai chili with crunchy rice cakes, a sort of spaghetti called knom jean, southern fish curry, and more. There are also entrées like fried bits of ground catfish atop a zesty green papaya salad. Warning: Weak palates should steer clear of the superspicy stir-frys. » 12924 Sherman Way, North Hollywood, 818-765-8395.
Fiesta Sa Barrio
Distantly related to the famed Bario Fiesta just up the road, this family-owned dive puts out L.A.’s best Filipino food—Southeast Asia’s most hybridized cuisine. The menu soars, from the calderetta (a European-style beef stew) to the Bicol express (seafood in a tropical coconut sauce) to the halo-halo dessert (an icy sundae topped with custard, coconut, sweet beans, and lavender-colored taro ice cream). » 4326 Eagle Rock Blvd., Eagle Rock, 323-256-4380.
Waiting on the sidewalk is part of the routine here, where the menu covers a huge swath of Vietnamese standards. Neither too fatty nor too sweet, the pho has a subtle complexity other restaurants can’t consistently achieve, and the cha gio (fried egg roll) is ideal, with a crisp amber wrapper surrounding ground pork, mushroom, and cellophane noodles. After a bowl of bun thit nuong (charbroiled pork with rice vermicelli), everything seems a little brighter. » 815 W. Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel, 626-308-0803, 626-308-1291.
In a cheery Valley storefront, husband-and-wife owners Alex and Ooi Sonbalee create dishes inspired by their respective hometowns—hers use the acerbic flavors of southern Thailand, his the mellower notes of the north. Mammoth dishes average $7 and include favorites like the nam prik noom dip served with a dramatic display of vegetables, the kanom jean curry noodles, and South Sea Spice Curry. » 8920 Reseda Blvd., Northridge, 818-882-3028.
There was a pho 79 back in Saigon (the number referred to the street address), and those who remember that place find solace in the pho (beef noodle soup) at this offshoot, where the broth is light and perfumed with star anise. It’s easy to gorge on the bún thit nu’ó’ng (charbroiled beef on vermicelli with dried onion), and the tender bo luc lac (filet mignon with onion on rice) is a full-flavored introductory dish for Vietnamese newbies. » 29 S. Garfield Ave., Alhambra, 626-289-0239.
E-saan, or Eastern-style Thai food, is famous for its rustic dishes with incendiary heat, and for more than two decades nobody has done it better than this recently spruced-up dive. Most dishes are to be eaten with your fingers along with mounds of sticky rice, like the sau rong hai (charred steak with a tart dipping sauce) and the koi soi (a peppery raw beef salad), both of which embody the spiciness that put this regional cuisine on the map. » 13019 E. Rosecrans Ave., Ste. 105, Norwalk, 562-921-2124.
The location is obscure—just out of sight off Ventura Boulevard. But the devotees who’ve been coming here for more than 25 years wouldn’t have it any other way. The long list of noodle dishes includes varieties rarely seen outside of Thaitown. We’re still swooning over the Indian-style coconut-curry noodles and the yen-ta foe, a pinkish rice noodle soup loaded with fish balls. Also superb: the sausage salad with chopped ginger and the flaky roti griddle bread for dunking in any of the rich curries. » 12051 Ventura Pl., Studio City, 818-762-7861.
Viet Noodle Bar
Where other neo-Vietnamese restaurants dumb down the traditional, this swank little joint riffs, adding complexity to some standards while nudging the emphasis in others. The kitchen reinvents bun mit (vegetarian jackfruit noodle), combining the fruit with tofu, shiitakes, and fat Japanese-inflected noodles, while the lightly browned exterior and snappy bean sprouts of the banh xeo chay (eggy vegetarian crepe) would make any Vietnamese mom nod in approval. » 3133 Glendale Blvd., Atwater Village, 323-906-1575.