In regional Thai restaurants like Sri Siam Cafe, don’t judge the menu by the front cover. Instead, flip immediately to the back page, where you’re bound to find a treasure trove of unusual specialties. Of course, at Sri Siam Cafe, the back page is just as likely to be missing entirely, but flip through enough menus and your persistence will be rewarded.
Sri Siam Cafe has occupied a North Hollywood strip mall since 1984. In over 25 years of business, they’ve amassed 125 menu items, including a column of Chef Specials and a separate section of House Specials. Sri Siam is a good place to bring a big group, since there are so many menu items that transcend typical pad Thai.
We started with Crispy Rice Salad ($6.95), a well balanced dish with crispy rice grains, whole roasted peanuts, spicy julienne ginger, green onions, cilantro and cubes of sour Thai sausage, which fall somewhere between Spam and ham on the pork spectrum. The tart, fatty cubes packed a bigger punch than either meat.
The signature dish of Chiang Mai is probably khao soi (spelled kao soy at Sri Siam) The egg noodle and curry powder soup ($6.95) is available with either beef or pork. Of course we went with pork. Lean cuts of white meat porcine imparted flavor into the sweet coconut milk-rich broth. Slippery fettuccine-like egg noodles were crowned with a thatch of crispy noodles up top. We wondered whether curry powder was a flavor shortcut, but it’s hard to imagine too many restaurants blending curry on a regular basis.
At many neighborhood Thai restaurants, you’ll find “larb” with either ground chicken or pork. Sri Siam Cafe ups the ante with Larb Ped ($8.95), chopping grilled duck leg and tossing it with tangy chile lime dressing, gritty roasted rice, shaved red onion and dry chile pods. This was the only dish of the meal that really brought the heat. Of course no Thai restaurant can bring the pain like Jitlada, so this larb was still tame by comparison.
On the side, we received a plate of bracing pickled vegetables, shaved onion and bean sprouts, all of which enriched the textural contrast of the soup. We also scored a dish of chile oil doused with chile flakes, which brought some good heat to an otherwise mild dish. No surprise, the versions of khao soi that I ate (and ate some more) in Thailand offered deeper complexity and richer flavor. This was a solid but overly sweet version with relatively simplistic sides.
Is Sri Siam Cafe as compelling as northern Thai restaurants like Spicy BBQ or Bua Siam? Probably not, since the flavors aren’t as bold, but it’s still one of the better Thai restaurants in an area of the city that basically amounts to Thai Town 2.0.