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May 7, 2014 03:20 PM

Isaan Station in K-Town should be on people's radars.

Hey, y'all, I haven't seen much chat about Isaan Station in Koreatown. But there should be. For what it's worth, the Thai consulate general's wife thinks it is the best Thai in the city! (Which has to count for something, although I can't imagine her doing too many noodle crawls through the dingy depths of Thai Town.)

I've been three times now and have been impressed with everything. They do a very good, albeit simple, grilled chicken which is an absolute staple of northern/eastern Thai cuisine. Now if only they threw some fried onions on top, it would be world class...

Papaya salads are very authentic. And that can mean weird, but if you're into some of the fermented crab, etc. then this place does it right. But even the most basic one has a wonderful mix of tart and spice without feeling oily and soupy like some papaya salads do.

I personally prefer the pork neck here to the pork neck at Night + Market. Pair it with sticky rice and you have quite the winning combo.

And last but not least, and the reason I go here, is the sensational Tom Saab Kra Dhook Mhoo. It's a spicy and sour broth, not that far removed from a tom yum, with fall off the bone pork ribs, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, all that good stuff. It is somewhat on the lighter side, has an almost cleansing effect to it. (Also served on one of those heater things with the flame underneath so it stays very hot which I quite like.)

They have a huge larb section, but that stuff isn't my favorite, so I've yet to try it.

Details wise: Cash only. Open until midnight most nights. There will be Thai music videos on TV and they will be quite engaging. It is less than a mile from the Wiltern. IMO, essential pre or post concert dining.

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    1. re: j_gordon

      "khao soi?"

      not an Isan specialty.

      1. re: TonyC

        but still can be at Isaan restaurants. there are a lot of Isaan restaurants in Chiang Mai, and khao soi is more of a Chiang Mai specific dish than a northern dish

        1. re: j_gordon

          I do not recall khao soi being on the menu.

          They do have a section they called the "Thai section" which has stuff like pad thai, etc. but I don't recall khao soi.

        2. re: TonyC

          Not necessarily. Northern Laos, which is closer culturally and culinarily to Isaan than Chiang Mai, has its own, different rendition of khao soi which contains no coconut milk:

          Without knowing where the chef is from it's hard to say for sure whether it's a dish that they specialize in.

          1. re: bigwheel042

            And Myanmar actually has its own version as well. It's a Southeast Asian mainstay.

      2. Thanks for the review I just checked out their website and online menu. I'll definitely give this place a try.

        1. Was it empty when you went?... The few times I tried to go by, there was no one inside even though it was during their open hours.

          Are they open till midnight every day now?

          Hard to imagine anywhere beating Night + Market at anything...

          22 Replies
          1. re: BacoMan

            I was there at 11:30 on a Tuesday night... There were four or five tables full--me and the girlfriend were the only non-Thais. And that has been the case every time I've been. Lots and lots of Thais. Nobody else.

            In my opinion, the papaya salad at Isaan Station is certainly better than Night + Market's version.

            As crazy as this is, I would rather go to Isaan Station this Night + Market. But I lived in a very Isaan neighborhood in Bangkok for five months so perhaps my tastebuds were swayed.

            1. re: set0312

              I agree with you. I haven't been that impressed on my visits to Night+Market. Issan's station's flavors are brighter. That being said, it's not my favorite Thai place as I find their dishes good, but not better than a few other places, but the thing is those are all under different roofs...


              1. re: Dommy

                What other thai places?

                I've had a few lackluster dishes at Night + Market (pad thai), but mostly its the best thai place to be because of their better quality of ingredients it seems like.

                1. re: BacoMan

                  The quality of ingredients at Night + Market can be a difference maker. That's why it is constantly so fantastic.

                  With that being said, I'm not sure Night + Market has a mind-blowing dish that is better than every other place's dish in the city. What's your fav thing at Night + Market?

                  I prefer their bigger dishes. That pork rump thing or whatever the hell that is--and I think they do a nice salt-encrusted fish. My fav. thing about Night + Market is everything is really good. Plus you feel good getting out of there.

                  1. re: set0312

                    The thing about the ingredient quality too, is that Night + Market is barely more expensive than regular Thai places...

                    My last visit to Night + Market was particularly revelatory. The khao soi is absolutely incredible. The startled pig dish is also truly amazing. I recently ate at Spicy BBQ, had the BBQ pork, and realized that Night + Market's startled pig is just Thai BBQ basically, but with the "dressing" already on it. The Night + Market version blew me away though. One of the best things I've ever eaten.

                    The most disappointing thing I've ever had at Night + Market was the pad thai... I was really expecting it to be great, but I've never had a more flavorless plate of noodles in my entire life. Maybe that's more authentic, but, I guess that is one dish I prefer the American version of.

                    1. re: BacoMan

                      The khao soi is very good. That was the highlight of my last meal there. I'm not sure I'd deem it absolutely incredible, but I really did like it--so no argument there. I'm sure I've had the startled pig at some point there, but it's not jumping out at me.

                      Pad thai in my opinion is never good. I've had it in America and I've had it at supposedly some of the best street stalls in bKK. It's always oily, bland, and in my opinion, a weird flavor combination. The Thais seem to primarily eat it as drunk food--in a similar way to how we'd order Domino's at three in the morning or go to Taco bell or something.

                      Will Isaan Station blow your mind? I'm not sure. But I do think a logical comparison is Chichen Itza. A small, no-frills restaurant specializing in a very localized cuisine, and doing it in a very local way.

                      The soup I mentioned is crave-worthy. And the nuance in the grilled chicken was incredible. Now in fairness, it's not a particularly revelatory dish, but it's nearly identical to what can be found in BKK--so for that I applaud.

                      Should it be rushed to? Like you'd rush to Bucato or Chi Spacca or Alma or Taco Maria, perhaps not. Should you give it a shot, definitely.

                      1. re: set0312

                        I'd say anything garnering a Chichen Itza comparison may be a place worth rushing to haha

                        Pad thai is great drunk food hah But I have had great versions of it. Or maybe my tastes have evolved...I rarely order it anymore. I remember when I first discovered it though it became my favorite dish for a long time.

                        Is the grilled chicken just called grilled chicken? What makes it Thai specifically?

                        1. re: BacoMan

                          According to their website, it's a charcoal-grilled, turmeric marinated chicken served with a sweet chili sauce and a jaew sauce. So that must be how they do it in Thailand! On the menu, it's called khai yang and has the description underneath so you won't have any problems ordering it.

                          But really, the highlight will be the tom saab khra dhook moo. Get that. And definitely stay away from the "Thai" section of the menu. And stay away from the deep-fried and you'll be in good shape.

                  2. re: BacoMan

                    Just off the top of my head... All my favorite dishes are elsewhere.... Nothing I've had at Issan has topped them. I mean, Issan is GOOD. Very good and consistent (We live a lot closer to them than these other places) Sapps for their Boat Noodles and Jade Noodles. Pa Ord for Duck Noodles. Ruen Pair for stir fried veggies. Ekkamai for Curry, Spring Rolls, and Crispy pork. Araya Thai for Pad Thai and Pad See Ew. Jitlada for Crispy Catfish Salad. Pailin for Larb and Nakkara for Soft Shell Crab Curry.

                    We also spend a good amount of time in Vegas and almost always go to LOS and now Chanda.


                    1. re: Dommy

                      That crispy catfish salad is a remarkable dish !

                      1. re: jessejames

                        Probably the only reason I go there still... They have this pot of silver noodles with prawns and other seafood that I always order too. But over the years the quality of that has declined. :p


                        1. re: Dommy

                          I'll have to try the silver noodles. I also like the dry chili spicy beef, real hot and served with raw cabbage wedges.

                      2. re: Dommy

                        Ahh I still badly need to get to LOS.

                        1. re: set0312

                          Caution. It's possible to have a mediocre meal at LOS. Make sure to order the "letters" or Northern specialties.

                          Chada Thai in LV (former somm at LOS) also very, very good.

                        2. re: Dommy

                          Wow, what a list! I need to go try this stuff.

                          In your opinion, what makes a good pad thai?

                          Do you ever get the salty turnip and egg, or pork jerky at Ruen Pair?

                          Have you (or set, or anyone else) tried Bua Siam? I haven't, but just came across it. The thai spaghetti with bay leaf stew looks fascinating.

                          1. re: BacoMan

                            Hi Baco... I have tried Bua Siam. None of the dishes I had there struck me as remarkable, but it's good and inexpensive. Sadly it's a bit too far to drive for us to go there and not Issan Station or just straight to Thai town...

                            As for Pad Thai... keep in mind that my FIRST thai food experience was at Toi on Sunset... with Pad Thai... LOL!!

                            Now for me, it's all about the elements... Not too sweet... but a touch of sweetness. A good balance of crisp sprouts and cooked egg. Obviously well cooked meat or tofu and a MUST is just enough peanut powder. I seriously get miffed when they put too little or just sprinkle the whole thing. AND a squeeze of lime is a must. Araya always gets it right. So for them, it's not that they make the most eye rolling version, but I'm always with someone who wants to order it and I've always liked it best there...


                          2. re: Dommy

                            Oh! How could I forget... one of my new favorites, the Sticky Leaf's Kanom Krok and Sausage. Also one of my favorite fried master pieces are Jade Wings, the one at my old local Thai place, Star of Siam in Long Beach always is near and dear... My all time favorite thai dish is Ha Mok Fish Curry. The BEST I ever had was at the Wat Thai temple... but it's hard to find a REALL great version out there...


                        3. re: Dommy

                          Dommy have you had the Tom Saab Kra Dhook Mhoo? Do you know of any other places that do a similar dish? If so I need to check it out.

                          I myself have been super impressed by Night + Market. But I do like a few things at Isaan Station a bit more.

                          1. re: set0312

                            I actually haven't had that dish... Not a huge fan of Thai Soups aside from boat noodles... but I'll give it a shot! :D


                            1. re: set0312

                              "Tom Saap....? Do you know of any other places that do a similar dish"
                              Lacha Somtum. but it's not light, because it is spicy, and sour as F, thought probably less so right now due to lime prices.

                              1. re: TonyC

                                I'll have to check this out. What did you think of everything else at Lacha Somtum?

                      3. I've been going there since they first opened. Surprised they haven't folded yet, it's a great restaurant in an odd location.

                        Love the food though and definitely one of my favorite Thai places in town. The Tom Saap is great when it's made properly and the dtub wan (pork liver salad) is amazing when you ask for it cooked medium rare (which they will cook well done by default if you aren't Thai).

                        1. Funny, I live close to there and want to love it, but wasn't thrilled. Plus, the prices are about a dollar too high and the portions a tad too small. However, I haven't tried this soup you mention or the grilled chicken. I'll give it another shot.

                          That being said, I'd be shocked if it came close to Sri Siam, whose bbq duck leg larb and khao soi make life worth living. But then, Isaan Station specializes in different dishes.

                          5 Replies
                          1. re: Rosiepigs

                            Comparing it to Sri Siam is comparing apples to oranges. You go to Isaan Station for Isaan specialties.

                            I have had no problem with the portion size, but I do agree the prices are a little much. What's interesting is I've found some dishes get you way more bang for your buck than others. It's like they arbitrarily decided to charge no more than 9.99 for a dish and no less than 7.99.

                            Out of curiosity, what did you get that you didn't like? I'll avoid those dishes next time I go!

                            1. re: set0312

                              Totally hear you on the arbitrary nonsensical pricing. It's a bit like Jitlada! $10 for pad see ew, fried rice, n shit. But only $11(?) for a huge tub of Tom sap. What is that about? (Rhetorical Question)

                              What other "value" dishes do you like here? I find sticking to grilled and fried dishes, with a couple of sticky rice, is the only way to go.

                              But they don't have BYOB, which makes the larp, etc. Dishes rather lonely.

                              1. re: TonyC

                                I got the Nahm Dtok Mhu last time and thought for 8 dollars it wasn't the worst deal ever.

                                But Isaan Station for me is a nostalgia place. Reminds me of the months I've spent in Thailand--so normally I just get the tom saab and the grilled chicken and pretend I'm in an isaan neighborhood in Bangkok ;)

                                Side question: Have you tried the sausages? I haven't, but I saw some random national website saying that they had some of the best Isaan sausages in the US.

                                1. re: set0312

                                  Then you really should do Lacha, as its menu is far deeper than Issan Station. Though, TBH, the tom sap at Lacha is even more "cleansing" (ie, less heavily flavored, has a hint of sweetness).

                                  The sai krok Isan at Issan Station is indeed totally ridiculous. It's not as sour as the rendition at Cancoon (not fermented as long?) but it is jammed with galangal/lemongrass, kinda like tom sap in a tube. Many restaurants just buy the nasty/fatty sai krok from LAX-C, but this version I gladly pay for. Lacha had sai krok Issan as a "specials" couple of weeks ago, which leads me to think it's also house-made, but I didn't try it.

                                  1. re: TonyC

                                    I'll get to Lacha soon. Anything in particular I need to get?