Indonesian restaurants are finding their footing in Los Angeles right now. It’s never been a ubiquitous cuisine here the way Vietnamese and Thai have, and it hasn’t reached the scorching-hot status currently enjoyed by the food of another nearby nation, the Philippines. But there’s no reason Indonesian food shouldn’t be just as popular—because it tastes really good.
Following the lead of many Indonesian restaurants, we’re also talking about Malaysian and Singaporean food. Many restaurants serve food from all three countries, which were split up by colonizers in ways that didn’t have much to do with the actual cultures there.
A Glendale restaurant called Rinjani closed after less than a year, but Bone Kettle in Pasadena has been churning out food that incorporates a lot of Indonesian flavors for almost two years. Kasih, a new addition downtown, is trying out the upscale route, with an expensive menu and a complicated bar program. The restaurant is also providing a service, adding a note about every dish’s geographic origin.
But if you don’t feel like spending that kind of money, here are some Indonesian restaurants in Los Angeles County—the few, the delicious—that everyone should visit to expand their culinary horizons. (And because this might become the hottest food genre in L.A. soon. But mostly to learn something about the world.) There are more, but this is a nice cross-selection.
Simpang Asia in Palms started as a grocer and has offered prepared food since at least 2004, making it a elder statesman by restaurant standards. The huge menu (it’s a full-fledged restaurant now) offers a huge array of noodles prepared in different styles, fried rice, soups, grilled skewers, roasted and fried birds, a ton of fried treats, and big desserts with jellies and condensed milk. 10433 National Blvd., Palms.
Alhambra’s Borneo Kalimantan also included region-of-origin information on the menu, which means diners walk away well-fed and a bit more educated. This is a great spot for comfort food, be it noodles or rice. Get some egg noodles, with any combination of toppings, just make sure you mix it all up well so you don’t miss any flavors. The fried rice is spicy and flavorful and addictive. And if you want to triple-carb (which of course you do), get a side of roti as well. Flaky flatbread with dipping sauce elevates any meal. 19 S. Garfield Ave., Unit A, Alhambra.
Badminton Cross Court Cafe
This unlikely shining star in Pomona is hard to get to—visitors must ask the employee at the sporting goods store in front to buzz them in to the little cafe adjacent to the badminton courts. A small menu is taped to the wall next to the order window, but call ahead on weekends if you want to grab a plate of whatever’s on special: usually a combo platter of coconut rice, braised beef, fried fish patties, and sauteed vegetables. Always get the rujak for dessert—if you didn’t know you wanted your fruit salad tossed in a very spicy brown sugar sauce, you do now. 3410 Pomona Blvd., Pomona.
Do you like a lunch combo? Because Mr. Sate in Palms has really turned them into works of art. First diners are served a plate of rice, skewers with tomato or peanut sauce (the cooks are excellent sauce-makers), and a fried meat-and-potato patty called a perkadel. Then comes the outrageously large bowl of soup—lunchers get to choose from a couple noodle and meat options. Also check the whiteboard menus for specials like fried fish with vinegar sauce and yellow noodles. 3456 Motor Ave., Ste. 104, Palms.
Go for noodles at this tiny Pasadena restaurant, and go early—it closes at 7 p.m. The laksa, a coconut-based soup with sambal, herbs, meat, and noodles, is quite popular and pretty hearty. If a stir-fry is more appealing, QQ Kopitiam offers a lot of Cantonese-derived dishes that are popular in Singapore: try char kuway teow, a spicy and smoky dish of wide noodles and meat. 1491 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena.
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