Spicy, savory, even more spicy: Your guide to affordable Southeast Asian cuisine in Palms
By Audrey Cleo Yap
Encompassing everything from the Spanish-inflected cuisine of the Philippines to the chili-garlic and coconut-driven spice of Indonesia, Southeast Asian cuisine is nothing if not diverse. And Palms just happens to be a hub for it.
To highlight some of the best that the intersection of the 405 and 10 has to offer — just in time for the Singapore-set romantic comedy “Crazy Rich Asians” hitting theaters next Wednesday (Aug. 15) — we’ve compiled a guide to affordable Southeast Asian eats that will take your taste buds on a delectable tour of this flavorful region without putting a dent in your pocketbook.
Indonesia in a Bowl: Mr. Sate
3456 Motor Ave. (323) 861-9639 mrsatewla.com
The “sate” part is pronounced “sah-tay,” as in the skewered meat that is a Southeast Asian comfort food staple. And, yes, it’s excellent — options include chicken, beef or shrimp served with a textured peanut sauce ($1.50 to $3 each).
But the true standouts are the combo specials, which can change depending on the week or day ($9 to $15). Indonesian staples like nasi goreng and mie goreng (fried rice and stir fried noodle, respectively) or eggplant balado (spicy and served with rice) come with sides like chicken satay and a corn fritter or perkedel (seasoned fried patties).
For cooler nights, you can’t go wrong by warming up with a bowl of soto ayam ($6), the chicken noodle soup that packs punches of flavor thanks to generous helpings of lemongrass and turmeric — and feels like a jaunt to Jakarta.
Packed with Spice: Simpang Asia
10433 National Blvd. (310) 815-9075 simpangasia.com
There are a few things you need to know about Simpang Asia: first, they don’t take reservations. Second, there’s a grocery store next door, so if you’re feeling inspired to re-create your lunch or dinner at home, pop on over after your meal. And third, none other than Jonathan Gold (rest in power) sung their praises in 2011 because of the nasi bungkus.
Think of nasi bungkus as “meals in a leaf” — chicken and vegetable curries, beef rendang, spicy chili sambal egg and rice come tightly wrapped in a banana leaf for you to unravel into a savory beautiful mess, all for under $15. Choose among regular, medium or spicy heat levels.
Speaking of which, the nasi goreng jagger ($13.50) is described as “specially crafted, extremely spicy and hometown inspired.” Pay special attention to that second part: The fried rice dish is cooked up with chicken, bean sprouts, cabbage, chilies and topped with two spicy scrambled eggs. The spice level is one that will challenge even the most adept of fire-eaters, and they’re unable to make it with any less heat.
East Meets Palms: Mee and Greet
3500 Overland Ave. (310) 878-0838 meeandgreet.com
The first thing you’ll notice when you step into Mee and Greet is the ’90s hip-hop blaring from the sound system and the neon pink sign reading “good vibes only.” Add “good food” to that.
M&G is Palms’ newest kid on the block from founder Eric Ong (Humble Potato in Westchester). Ong, who is Taiwanese and Chinese-Indonesian, grew up partly in Jakarta and moved to Los Angeles for college in 1997. Incidentally, his first apartment was not far from his newest restaurant.
“Palms has always been a nostalgic part of my upbringing. I remember riding my bike to 7-Eleven down the street and going to the Lucky supermarket. How I understand L.A. is Palms,” says Ong, who worked in IT before transitioning into the restaurant industry.
Chef Minh Phan brings an impressive array of fusion options to the menu, like salted egg parmesan fries ($7) and the Mad for Garlic noodles (egg noodles, garlic butter, parmigiano reggiano, $11). Bar bites, served Monday through Friday from 4 to 7 p.m., start at $5. Beer and wine are $2 during happy hour.
But the standout dish is a traditional one: Hainan chicken rice ($15) — poached organic chicken served with rice and flavored with chicken stock, a trio of sauces and savory broth. It’s soul food, Peranakan-style, a callback to the history of Chinese immigrants moving to Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia and cooking their dishes using local ingredients.
And in a nod to L.A.’s rich mélange of cuisines and cultures, the bo luc lac saltado ($18) is traditional Vietnamese shaking beef with a Peruvian spin — fitting, as Roy Choi’s Kogi Taqueria is just a few doors down in the same shopping plaza.
Fresh Vietnamese: Phorage
3300 Overland Ave. (310) 876-0910 phoragela.com
In the same vein as Mee and Greet — and only a five-minute walk away — Phorage puts a modern twist on traditional Vietnamese favorites made with sustainable and locally-sourced ingredients. The imperial egg rolls (pork, vermicelli, roasted peanuts, $7) are a house favorite, as is the oxtail-flavored pho ($13).
Brooklyn-born chef Perry Cheung cut his teeth at the esteemed Slanted Door in San Francisco and ROC Kitchen in L.A. before opening up Phorage in 2013. Cheung opened a second location — ASAP Phorage —tucked inside Gordon’s Market in Playa del Rey (303 Culver Blvd.). The ASAP stands for “Asian sandwiches and pho,” and they do serve a mean lemongrass pork banh mi, in case you were wondering.
Fortunately, Palms and Playa are not far from Culver City or Westchester, where “Crazy Rich Asians” is screening, so if you find yourself wanting to extend the experience, you know where to go.
“Crazy Rich Asians” is screening at HHLA’s Cinemark 18 & XD and Arclight Culver City. Visit fandango.com for showtimes.