If you’ve been to Bangkok, you know just how much the city is about food, especially food that’s sold in food courts in the city’s numerous malls, and on streets by vendors. The latter is what Soi 56 is all about.
The name led my mind to a little lane (soi means lane), but Hollywood style, Soi 56 is in a little strip mall off North Cahuenga Boulevard. Valet parking is available for $7 or you can find spaces on side streets and pay by the meter.
Walk in and you see a bar, with oddly low chairs, and a rendition of the Thai royalty’s crown atop it. The rest of the decor is a simple affair: colourful panels, a marked absence of the staple batch of royal portraits that are usually seen in Thai restaurants (lese majeste anyone? I joke), and a single lantern underneath which we sat. Bit better than the homely Jitlada, but still very much in the casual realm.
A private party took up more than half the restaurant this particular evening, so sadly, the only table to accommodate my party of six was a slightly uncomfortable one in close proximity to the door. I confess I am picky about seating if only to facilitate dinner conversations, so this was a definite con.
Happily, a good percentage of the food made up for it and the service didn't dampen things further.
I went with every intention of trying the restaurant’s dineLA Restaurant Week menu, but we decided to order straight off the regular menu instead because of the temptingly long list of options on the menu.
Our picks: lamb chops, tongue, and squid off the grill menu; fish sauce wings, naked shrimp, crying tiger beef, and seafood hotpot for appetizers; poorman noodles, duck soup and a few orders of the spicy drunken noodles for main courses.
• The lamb chops (which come in a pair) were medium rare and very palatable with their sweet sauce accompaniment. So much so that I forgot to share them.
• The tongue and squid seemed to go down well with my friends at the other end of the table. Word was, they were crunchy and delicious.
• The fish sauce wings were up to par as far as wings go – tasty and not terribly greasy.
• The naked shrimp were the pièce de résistance– a true to Bangkok spicy affair. Beware, there are plenty of chillies clothing the simply cooked shrimp coyly hidden in the salad, poised to inflict an impression on your taste buds. Zing. I’ll admit, perhaps a notch too spicy, but delicious all the same especially with loads of lime.
• I could have done without the crying tiger beef. The rare meat lacked flavour, the only cure to which was a lashing of the spicy sauce that came with it.
• The hotpot turned out to be a large serving of the usual tom kha gai, minus the gai, plus fish, crab, and prawns. Not bad at all, but didn’t seem so hot at $18.
• The poorman noodles were a nice, tasty, simple affair with tofu, eggs, bean sprouts, cabbage, and scallion.
• The drunken noodles were excellent. Not eye wateringly spicy (a relief, after the chilli attack from the naked shrimp) but just right, with well cooked flat noodles, and loads of squid and prawns.
• The duck soup arrived in a steaming bowl emanating warmth and substance. It might go better with wintry weather, but it was flavourful and filling, and my friend was happy with her choice.
Prices are reasonable with the exception of the hotpot, which, admittedly, is meant to share. A simple meal can be had for as little as $12-18 per person if you don't go overboard with grill items, drinks and desserts.
All in all, a good bet for a casual Thai dinner in Hollywood -- especially if you get a better table than I did.
1556 N. Cahuenga Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90028
Telephone: 323 962 5656
Hours: Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.- 11 p.m.; Friday 11:30 a.m. – 2 a.m.; Saturday 12 p.m. – 2 a.m.; Sunday 12 p.m. – 11 p.m.
RATING: 4 out of 5 FRIED BANANAS, of which we didn’t have any but might on a second visit.