Spicy BBQ Restaurant by Nong & Family. A super talent plies the stoves at this minuscule northern-style restaurant hidden in a strip mall next to a falafel place. The specialties listed toward the back of the menu include kaeng hangleh (pork curry spiked with whole cloves of garlic, slices of ginger and peanuts) and naam phrík num (a dip of roasted serrano chiles that comes with lightly cooked vegetables). 5101 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 663-4211. 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Closed Wednesdays.
Top Thai Cuisine. It may be on a less-than-hip stretch of Reseda Boulevard, but the dining room is handsome and the china elegant. Proceed directly to the back page of the menu, for the northern specialties -- proprietress Noi Sriyana will be happy to make recommendations. Don't miss the muu ping, garlic-infused strips of pork; khao sawy noodle curry; or sai ua pork sausage. 7333 Reseda Blvd., Reseda; (818) 705-8902. Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner, 5 to 9:30 p.m. Open for dinner only on Sundays. Closed Wednesdays.
Can Coon Although its setting is beyond nondescript, the flavors at this six-table Isaan-style place leap from the plate. Any one of the blistering salads, seasoned with pak pai (an herb that tastes like cilantro raised to the 10th power) will impress. The fermented sour rice sausage and shrimp laap (larp kroong on the menu) are some of the best in town. 9887 E. Alondra Blvd., Bellflower; (562) 925-0993. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Khun Lek Kitchen. Crisp white tablecloths, contemporary art and a mirrored karaoke room mark this as a restaurant with aspirations, and the light, clean food lives up to the look. Check the menu and daily specials board for such Isaan favorites as raw shrimp laap or catfish salad. 9208 1/2 Alondra Blvd., Bellflower; (562) 804-6602. Open 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Closed Wednesdays.
Renu Nakorn. The remodeled Isaan standard is scheduled to reopen in December, and there's much anticipation. What will it look like? Will the food still be good? The owners are also linked to acclaimed Thai restaurant Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas. Soon to open at 13019 Rosecrans Ave., No. 105, Norwalk; (562) 921-2124.
Thai Nakorn. This longtime favorite Isaan spot has reopened in a new location. Upholstered booths along the walls create casual-chic comfort. The food is as good as ever, and the service has even improved. A brightly lighted deli case stuffed with house-made Thai-style desserts and snacks dominates the room, but the sweets are a side show to regional specialties such as wild boar with spicy sauce. 11951 Beach Blvd., Stanton; (714) 799-2031. Open 10:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Soon to open at 12532 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove.
Dee Dee Thai-Lao Restaurant. This pleasant airy space with a tiny dance floor might give the impression there'll be a party thrown after hours. No such luck; all the better to focus on the beautifully prepared Thai-Lao specialties: kao poun nam pa, an outrageous red curry over noodles; pla goong -- grilled shrimp with pulverized fresh chile sauce; and the mok pa, herb-strewn fish steamed in banana leaves. 311 S. Brookhurst St., Anaheim; (714) 956-2997; deedeerestaurant.com. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and Sundays. 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Closed Mondays.
Vientiane Thai Cuisine. College-age sisters help out with the serving, Mom is in the kitchen and you can imagine a Thai grandma lending a hand at this super-cozy Thai-Lao spot. Pad phet kra pao (frog stir-fried with basil and lots of garlic) and chicken pieces steamed with kaffir lime in banana leaf are wonderful. 10262 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove; (714) 530-7523. Open 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed Mondays.
Jitlada Thai Restaurant. This cozy spot has been a fixture in Thai Town for decades, but its new owners have amped up the special southern Thai menu (flip to the back of the regular menu), and it's terrific. Specialties include the yam priaw dawng (pickled crab salad) and the khao yam (rice salad). 5233 1/2 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood: (323) 667-9809; jitladathaicuisine.com. Open 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday; 5 to 11 p.m. on Mondays.
Lum-Ka-Naad. The brash tart heat of the south and the warm mellow flavors of the north come together in this rustically styled dining room where the restaurant's forward- thinking owners aim to spread the word about "true" Thai flavors. The food is meticulously prepared -- laap plaa duk (crispy catfish salad) and laap kua (ground pork salad), for example -- and often comes with the restaurant's signature platters of palate-cooling fresh vegetables. 8920 Reseda Blvd., Northridge; (818) 882-3028. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
-- Linda Burum