Don’t let the dingy North Hollywood strip mall dissuade you. Bua Siam serves some of the most compelling northern Thai food in Los Angeles. The restaurant has existed for 14 years, but it wasn’t until Don Tamphoon and his family took over Lotus Flower of Thailand (as it’s called in Thai) four years ago.
The Tamphoons come from Chiang Rai, a small town near better-known Chiang Mai. Don’s father is responsible for most of the northern Thai recipes. Some of his recipes hail from Thailand and he created others in the States. Don said, “Some of these dishes, you can’t find anywhere else.” That’ a bold statement, but even after my trip to Bangkok and hundreds of Thai meals across L.A., his statement holds true.
Just like at Jitlada and a couple other top Thai restaurants in town, the most compelling dishes are listed on the back of Bua Siam’s menu. On the back page, northern Thai dishes are available in small and full portions, which encourages sampling.
The small space features lime green and orange walls, framed photos of seashells and a plant-lined bamboo goldfish fountain near the front entrance.
Rice Cake with Shrimp Sauce ($3.50) was compelling. The silky blend of spreadable shrimp, pork and coconut cream came with what amounted to four squares of crispy, subtly sweet Rice Krispy treat.
Thai Spaghetti with Bay Leaf Stew (small, $2.99) has been one of my longtime favorites. Rice noodles arrive blanketed with chopped greens, cinnamon-like cassia buds and a mildly spicy curry broth. This dish only nabbed one chile pepper on Bua Siam’s scale of 1 to 4.
Pad Ped Moo Pa ($8.99) scored higher on the Scoville scale, and higher still on my personal flavor meter (a.k.a. my tongue). Lean sheets of wild boar and fatty strips of boar skin were sautéed with green peppercorn clusters, green chilies with the seeds intact, strands of pickled rhizome (similar to ginger), holy basil, lime leaves, curry and crunchy chunks of green eggplant. This was a terrific dish with layers of texture and flavor. Sure the boar skin was fatty, but it no doubt added flavor and was easily avoidable.
Rolled rice noodles with minced pork and shiitake mushrooms ($3.50) were simple but satisfying. The steamed noodles were doused with soy sauce and sprinkled with crisp bean sprouts, bamboo and squares of absorptive tofu.
There was only one down note. I wanted to order a “Daily Special” – Kui Chai – soft rice biscuit stuffed with Chinese chives, served with hot & sweet black sauce. It was initially unavailable, then I was told it was available…but only if I wanted it fried. By that point, I already consumed four other post-worthy dishes. I’ll have to wait to eat the steamed version another time.