Restaurant Review #119: Siam Chan, West LA

Japanese food abounds in the West LA neighborhood just west of the 405, but Thai food is scarce. Choose between the always empty Talay Thai on Santa Monica Blvd. near Corinth (on my to-dine list in spite of its emptiness) or the kind of sketchy looking pink hut behind the 20/20 Video.

The pink hut is Siam Chan, easily identifiable by the jocular red letters spelling out "Thai Food" across the front of the building. Inside, you are amazed that tables fit in this place. There are about ten, each with a tablecloth made from simple floral fabric that hasn't even been hemmed but is straight off the bolt and a glass (or nice plastic) table top. The tables are close together, the dining room is not much larger than an apartment living room, and the restaurant is 60% full on a Tuesday evening, with more people constantly coming and going with take-out food. And yet, it is quiet enough that you can hear the cheesy soft pop music coming from speakers mounted in a far corner. The hostess jots down orders and runs credit cards with a speed that is seen only in the busiest of restaurants, and yet the scene remains completely calm.

As newcomers, we walked in off the street, thinking we could get a to-go order in our hands within 10 minutes. We were wrong. About five people who knew better had already called in their orders, and we waited about thirty minutes for our food. I wasn't bothered, since I had good company and an empty table to sit at, but my less patient friend was irritated. After many jobs in the retail and service industries, I tend to be very forgiving of others in these fields, as long as they don't exhibit a blatant lack of concern for their clientele. If I had been at a highfalutin place like Melisse though, I would have expected more, and probably would have been less forgiving.

Despite the signage, Siam Chan actually serves both Thai and Chinese food, which is great for two picky eaters. I got my usual pad Thai and fish cakes, which I feel no remorse about ordering in spite of how generic they are because I've tried plenty of other Thai dishes in my time and just don't enjoy them as much. As a nice bonus, eating the same dish at multiple restaurants gives me a better basis of comparison. My friend ordered his Chinese favorite (and mine), orange chicken--also something I'm able to compare across the board.

When we got home, I was delighted to discover that they had sliced off the corners of the containers for the fish cakes and the orange chicken. As I learned from Daily Gluttony, a closed Styrofoam container full of crispy, hot, fried food soon becomes mushy if the steam can't escape.

The trick worked--the chicken was still crispy. It was deep fried in a light, airy batter and covered in a liquidy sauce quite different from the goopy, cornstarchy sauce that most restaurants use. It was orange in color, but not particularly orange in flavor, and there was no trace of orange or orange peel. It also wasn't spicy, though after we ate we discovered the little containers of hot sauce that must have been meant for us to adjust the spiciness according to our preference. In spite of these shortcomings, the chicken was actually very good. The quality of the meat was excellent--no wierd fat globs or toughness to send me back into the throes of vegetarianism. It's a great dish that I will order again--just maybe not quite what you're expecting when you order orange chicken.

The fish cakes were easy to cut with a fork and all the flavors worked well together, in contrast to the fish cakes I had not long ago at Krua Thai, which were quite heavy on the green chiles. The dipping sauce looked different from the usual runny sweet and sour sauce with crushed peanuts and cucumbers, and was described on the menu as being a curry sauce, but it tasted just like fish cake sauce always does--that's a good thing. I'll order these again too.

The pad Thai alarmed me at first because it was pink. That's right, pink. Not reddish orange, not brownish, but more like a diluted sweet and sour sauce slightly electric kind of pink. (I realize it's hard to tell in this photo.) With such a forboding color, I was expecting a nightmare in my mouth, but surprisingly the dish tasted fine. It was loaded with more vegetables than I would have cared for, including snow peas, carrots, black mushrooms, and brocolli, which seemed more Chinese than Thai to me. I did order it vegetarian to avoid dealing with any shrimp, so that might have increased the vegetable count, and the tofu I expected wasn't there (the restaurant serves a deep fried tofu appetizer, so I know they have it, but you know what they say about assuming things). The dish was also short on crushed peanuts, and the noodles weren't al dente, though they weren't mushy, either. The dish tasted good overall, but it isn't my favorite pad Thai, and I probably won't order it again.

Appetizers are about $5, large soups around $6, and generously sized entrees also around $6--quite a steal for freshly prepared, good quality, flavorful food. And according to the menu, they deliver with only an $8 minimum (you must spend $10 to use your credit card, though). I'll definitely eat here again.

Siam Chan
Thai-Chinese Cuisine
1611 Colby Ave (at Santa Monica Blvd. behind 20/20 Video)
Los Angeles, CA 90025
Siam Chan website
Siam Chan menu
11:30 am to 10 pm
11:30 am to 11 pm
12 pm to 9 pm


eatdrinknbmerry said...

hi amy, last week my friends and i ate at this hole-in-the-wall too. not expecting much more than your typical only-good-for-pad-thai restaurant, this place surprised me. i wasn't too fond of the thai SLASH chinese menu but found that they do offer some authentic stuff. my friends and i ordered the pad thai, rad nar and i got the duck noodle soup, which i really liked. we also had the papaya salad, which i requested to be more salty and not too sour. if you like those fishcakes, i can give you the recipe and you can enjoy it at home. it's stupid easy.

great review as always.

Tmblweed said...

I live right in between Talay Thai & Siam Chan, and I personally prefer Siam Chan over Talay Thai. Sure, Siam Chan's pad thai is strangely pink, and their prices are pretty much around the same, but I really appreciate the atmosphere and the way they treat their customers.

I'm on a first-name basis with their waitresses, and I've heard other customers greet them also. They're always smiling and friendly, even though they're absolutely packed on nights, as you've noticed.

Now, I don't know if it's because the waitress at Talay Thai is older in age, but strangely, my orders keep getting mixed up there. I know that she tries her best and is rather friendly, but maybe it's just that with younger age, there's more vitality?

anyways, that's just my thoughts. Looking forward to hear your opinion on Talay Thai and what you think about the comparison between the two!

Jason said...

actually, Siam Chan is no longer pink, I think around a couple of months ago. They repainted the outside and added some awning.

Foodie Universe said...

You're right, it's yellow now.

LA Snark said...

We order out from here all the time, the Pad See Eew (sp?) is great.