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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: http://www.foodfromnorthernlaos.com/2...

          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.

        http://www.isaanstationthaila.com

        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...

              --Dommy!

              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.

                    --Dommy!

                    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

                        --Dommy!

                        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...

                            --Dommy!

                          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...

                            --Dommy!

                        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

                            --Dommy!

                            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?

                          2. Finally made it here last night.

                            I can't add much to your original review, because I pretty much followed exactly in your footsteps, but to sum it up: Isaan Station is really fucking good.

                            That BBQ Chicken is unreal. I cannot think of a time I have had better chicken than that, in every way imaginable. The skin was perfectly crispy. It was incredibly tender, and juicy, yet not undercooked. The flavor was just unreal. Not only the best chicken I've had ANYWHERE (even $25 chicken at more high end places), but also one of the best dishes I've had. It was the stuff food dreams are made of.

                            The Tom Saab was also really good. I wish we had ordered it spicier (if you go here and are white, they kind of heavily discourage you from ordering above a 4/5, but you should just ignore this and order a 10 on their scale if you like spicy food, as, unfortunately, nothing we had was spicy. Not that it ruined the meal though). But it's still a really good soup. Reminded me a little bit of the spare rib noodles at Hoy-Ka without the noodles. Herbacious, tart, savory. I can see the craving possibilities easily.

                            The pork neck was incredibly tasty. Everyone loved it. I have to go back to Night + Market to try it again before officially judging since the time I had it there, it was apparently served too cold. They do it in thin-cut strips at Isaan Station though, and it's less fatty than Night + Market's. I would say it was just about the best pork I've had though, or close. It beat out Spicy BBQ's signature pork by a mile.

                            There was also pad see ew (for a vegetarian) which wasn't mind-blowing, but got the job done fine. A very clean, and not overly sweet version of the dish. And green curry (which the waitress recommended). It was not as adventurous as the other dishes, not new territory, but it was a very, very good rendition of green curry. There was rice, both sticky and jasmine. The portions of rice as about the same as Night + Market here, for about $.50 cheaper. I'm not sure why people complain about Night + Market's prices/portion size so much... the rice was not quite as good as Night + Market's, but better than every other Thai place I've been to.

                            For dessert there was a very tasty thai tea pudding, and what amounted to Thai banana cream pie in a cup. The desserts were very tasty. I rarely eat dessert in a Thai restaurant, so it was nice to have some simple options. The thai tea pudding was actually really good. It had the texture of a pans cotta more than a budino, but I found it to be the perfect finisher.

                            I'm curious though, is that pudding (and banana cream pie) something you would actually be served in Thailand? Or is dessert where Isaan Station kind of caters to Western tastes?

                            Overall, the meal was a smashing success. $91 for 5 people. (and about $24 of that was drinks). The flavors are really, really good. The ingredients seem to be, if not the absolute highest quality, a step above most places. The servers are very friendly and helpful for the most part. It's a great restaurant. At least one member of my party said he would rather go to Isaan Station over Night + Market comparing our last Night + Market meal to this one.

                            I have to go back and explore the menu more, but this is absolutely one of the best places in LA. The chicken is good enough by itself to make it a destination restaurant from anywhere in LA (or OC).

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: BacoMan

                              Baco-- So thrilled to see you really enjoyed it! I'm glad you could appreciate the chicken. For all its simplicity, it truly is exquisite. Would you believe me if I said you could find chicken and pork neck that good on every street in Bangkok?

                              I've not had the pad see ew as I've only ordered Isaan dishes, but I'm glad to know that its serviceable. A good fallback for my less adventurous friends.

                              I think you're right about the rice not being perfect--a bit mushy and wet in my opinion, no?

                              As far as the desserts go, Thailand has a remarkably wide-ranging dessert culture. At some of the major malls, there are entire halls of food courts dedicated solely to desserts. I'm talking literally 20-30 different dessert stands in one place. So you can actually get a passable cheesecake or a decent crepe or gelato--basically whatever you want. So my verdict would be that somewhere along the road, the owner had a mall banana-cream pie he/she enjoyed and decided to replicate it.

                              By the way, was the honey toast on the dessert menu? Basically an entire loaf of bread smothered in honey and ice-cream and chocolate sauce. May have originated in Singapore, maybe Taiwan, I'm not sure. Regardless, Isaan Station does a really good version, but do be warned that it is like 11 dollars.

                              1. re: set0312

                                There were desserts on a chalk board...but when it was time for dessert they brought out samples of stuff to pick from. The honey toast, and some wheat grass jelly were on the chalkboard that I was excited about, but then they didn't offer those to us. So is the chalkboard menu actually legit? Possibly messed that up.

                                It's hard to believe that chicken that good could exist everywhere...a truly magical land.

                                1. re: BacoMan

                                  Honey toast was legit for us. We ordered off the chalk board last time I was in there. I sort of think they weren't expecting it though because it took an absurd amount of time to cook. Like thirty minutes which obviously was not cool.

                                  And yes, the food in Thailand is damn good. Fortunately, we live in the best place in the world other than Thailand to get it.

                                  1. re: set0312

                                    Shit. I wish we had tried to order off the chalkboard. Good tip for the future though. Maybe they baked the bread fresh?

                                    Have you ever had that raw blood and lemongrass soup in Thailand that Bourdain had on his show with Andy Ricker?

                            2. We ate at Isaan Station tonight. Three of us ate: 2 orders of BBQ chicken, papaya salad with pickled crab, northern thai sausage, glass noodle larb, and pad see ew, along with plenty of sticky rice. The total was $61 before tip.

                              This chicken is really excellent. I'm glad we got two orders, as each is about half a chicken. The skin is perfectly crispy, but the chicken is juicy, and the two sauces are wonderful together. From a technical perspective, I think this competes with pollo a la brasa, and the flavors are more dynamic.

                              The sausage is one of the more intense northern thai sausages I've eaten. One of my dining mates said it tasted like it was still a wild, live animal. You need to eat this with the ginger it comes with.

                              Papaya salad was excellent--even mild here has a kick. This is one of my favorite papaya salads in LA, the dressing is the perfect salty, sweet, spicy blend. I want to go back and try Ruen Pair's again after having this.

                              The larb woon sen was another brightly flavored, pungent dish. I've never had a noodle larb before. Very strong lime and porky flavors--good, but I think I'd stick with more traditional larb in the future.

                              Pad See Ew was atypical--very sweet for a pad see ew. Good, but not great. Probably the only dish I'd say not to try again, but only because everything else was so good.

                              The atmosphere of this place is interesting. On one hand, it's a lot more pleasant than your typical thai town place in terms of cleanliness and design. On the other hand, the music is annoying, and if you're there for the first time (and you're white) they will serve all your food mild.

                              I'll be going back for the short rib soup and charcoal grilled pork neck. And I think the chicken is a must-order.

                              8 Replies
                              1. re: Haeldaur

                                This place so DESPERATELY NEEDS BEER.

                                For me, it's def the sausage + short rib soup; both perfect for take-out so no need to suffer the inane service + T-pop.

                                  1. re: TonyC

                                    BYOB - just like Newport Tan Cang.

                                    1. re: J.L.

                                      If they don't have a beer & wine license they better hope none of their neighbors turn them in if they allow BYOB. That's what happened to Sawtelle Kitchen back in the day and it really screwed up their application for a long time.

                                      1. re: J.L.

                                        nope. not even.

                                        i showed up with 2 tallboys of sapporo and still got denied. that's just really awkward.

                                        1. re: TonyC

                                          It's like Thai food without rice really Big hit

                                      2. re: TonyC

                                        Can't do anything about the Thai pop, but the waitresses are really attentive if you woo them a bit. If you've been to Thailand, talk about that with them. All of a sudden they are your best friends for life.

                                      3. re: Haeldaur

                                        Glad you liked it. I definitely would not recommend the typical Thai dishes. Stick with the Isaan stuff.

                                        I actually haven't had the sausage yet, but i've heard it is quite an experience. A wild, live animal is a brilliant way to describe it!

                                      4. the wifey has been looking for a great thai bbq chicken, so it looks like I must go here.

                                        4 Replies
                                          1. re: ns1

                                            I use to make a pretty good version of 'gai yang' and my several visits to this place never did I once order it. I suppose its time to revsist since it's been over half a year since I've last been. Surprised it's still in business though.

                                            1. re: Johnny L

                                              You mind sharing your 'gai yang' recipe? Been messing around with it and failing.

                                              1. re: set0312

                                                Rather not as I developed it for a restaurant but if you don't mind sharing yours I can give pointers.