Hard by a Silver Lake swarm of Colombian, Salvadoran and Filipino dives, kitty-corner from the famous wounded-foot sign that spins outside a podiatrist’s office, Mae Ploy is the kind of neighborhood Thai restaurant that should be in everybody’s neighborhood, a place with egg rolls and stir-fries and pad Thai noodles, but also with terrific Bangkok-cosmopolitan food: hot curries, Isaan-style salads, complex, vegetable-laden soups.
Thai customers seem mostly to order to-go food from a steam table out front, stocked with the usual curries and chile-speckled fried fish; everybody else--black and white, Asian and Latino, gay and straight, affluent and slacker--crowds into the separate dining room, pounding Thai iced tea, crunching sweet-sauced wedges of fried bean curd. Mae Ploy’s clientele looks like L. A.
The cooking may not be quite as sharp as it can be at a couple of other Southland Thai restaurants--Hollywood’s Dee Prom and Norwalk’s Renu Nakorn come to mind--but it is mostly fine, and the interesting things on the menu here are translated into English . . . ordering the best stuff at Dee Prom sometimes feels like an oral midterm exam. At Mae Ploy it is easy to find good-tasting obscurities like chewy tripe salad or fried whole fish curled in a tart tamarind broth. Turn to the page of specialties at the menu’s end.
As at a lot of Bangkok-style restaurants--ones with as large a range of the fresh, fiery-hot cooking of northeastern Thailand as Shanghai-style Chinese restaurants tend to have of the sweet-hot food of Sichuan--much of the best food involves salads and snacks. Eggplant salad is smoky and warm, garnished with red onion slivers and crumbles of soft tofu; a warm duck larb is nice but a little liver-y; bamboo-shoot salad, gritty with toasted rice, has the pungent gaminess peculiar to that vegetable.
There is a good version of the northern Thai salad nam sod , ground pork sauteed with chiles, peanuts, citrus, onions and vegetables. It’s served barely warm, with the traditional garnish of pig’s ear that most places leave out, but whose crunchiness and slight gelatinous richness gives the dish its special character. Another salad, coarsely chopped catfish mixed with slivers of hot chile, is fried into something that looks like a marine version of Rice Krispies marshmallow treats--rich, yet not too oily, dressed with chile, fish sauce and citrus, superbly crunchy, the essence of fried food.
Sticks of deep-fried Thai beef jerky, powerfully beefy without having the unpleasant overcooked taste common to this dish, come with a smoky chile dipping sauce that may remind you of good chipotle chile salsa. Hot-and-sour seafood soup, filled with shrimp, rings of squid, green-lipped mussels and chunks of fish poached by the heat of the broth is almost citrus-y enough to pass for limeade; another, more pungent version made with tamarind seems less refreshing, but more balanced.
And if the main dishes tend to be less interesting than the specials and the first courses, most of them--whole fried pompano served with the usual sweetish chile sauce, chicken in a gentle green curry, pepper-garlic shrimp--are at least competently prepared.
* Mae Ploy
2606 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake, (213) 353-9635. Open seven days 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. No alcohol. MasterCard and Visa. Lot parking in rear. Takeout and delivery. Buffet. Dinner for two, food only, $9 to $16.