Review: Hollywood’s Luv2eat is one of L.A.'s essential Thai restaurants
When ordering jade noodles at Hollywood’s Luv2eat Thai Bistro, you have a choice: broth poured over top or served on the side? Dry-style is the move.
Adding stock would dilute the truest aim of the dish: to relish how the meats gloss the pale green strands and create soft-crisp-chewy tensions with their combined textures. Slices of roast duck and pork and striated hunks of fried pork belly fan across the bowl with stretchy leaves of gai lan and mounds of chopped peanuts and crushed chiles. It’s vital to squeeze a lime wedge hard over the ingredients and mix it all together before you twirl the first bite onto a fork.
Luv2eat’s jade noodles, or ba mee yok, rival the beloved version a couple of miles away at Sapp’s Coffee Shop, where the addition of crab meat curtails the meatiness; the pork and duck here have more gleam than the similar take I’ve tried at nearby Hoy-Ka Thai Noodle.
At once delicate and vigorous, Luv2eat’s ba mee yok also acts as a jumping-off point for other specialties that give the restaurant its character: crab submerged in fragrant coconut curry; sticky-sweet pork grilled on skewers; papaya salad, pungent with dried shrimp, arranged on a tray with Thai cold cuts and other garnishes; a pile of ground pork or chicken stained yellow from a turmeric-forward curry paste and riddled with almond-shaped sataws, otherwise known as stink beans.
Luv2eat opened in September 2014, and in its last half-decade it has become one of the great centrists among Los Angeles’s astounding breadth of Thai restaurants. Its spiciest efforts will not liquify your taste buds; the vibe is lively but rarely rambunctious. The menu broadly surveys popular dishes, rather than drilling down on a specific region of Thai cooking. But Luv2eat will envelop you and win you over in its own sweet and magnificent way.
During its busiest hours a small crowd will be milling about on its strip-mall sidewalk. Waits are never too long. The clientele filling its two sparsely decorated dining rooms is cheerful and diverse, a sea of heads bowed and slurping noodles. Servers move fast; they lean to the friendly side of brusque, though they’ll offer unerring advice on spice levels or choices that best reflect the kitchen’s strengths.
Somruthai Kaewtathip (whose nickname is Chef Fern) and Noree Burapapituk (she goes by Chef Pla) are both natives of Phuket, the island of sculptural mountains and touristy beaches located just off Thailand’s share of the Malay Peninsula. Their menu dips into some of the ubiquities of American Thai restaurants: egg rolls, stir-fried Chinese broccoli with beef, pad Thai with a pleasantly sour tautness. Home in on the dishes inspired by Phuket and nearby provinces of Southern Thailand for the most rousing expression of their talents and heritages.
Regarding the crab curry: Half of a crustacean pokes out of a lemon-colored curry fragrant with lemongrass, galangal, Makrut lime zest and a whiff of shrimp paste. Don’t want to wrench apart a sauce-drenched crab? There’s an equivalent made with boneless fish.
Former colleague Meghan McCarron, who introduced me to Luv2eat a few years back, gave me excellent early counsel: Request the seafood curry as spicy as you can handle it. Standard heat levels are mild, medium and spicy; even at medium the dish can come off slightly flat. If you can handle the capsicums, you want it full blast. The level of chile corrals the flavors into harmony like a conductor to an orchestra.
This is sound guidance in general for Kaewtathip and Burapapituk’s curries. Their approach to spice won’t cause shivers or weeping; they use it for heightening effect, as a magnifier of contrast like salt and acidity.
It’s especially effective in massaman curry, usually a mainstay that thrill seekers might otherwise overlook. This one brims with nuance. Chiles appear like ink splotches on the coconut milk’s surface; the bullying heat brings out the aggressive edges of cinnamon, clove and nutmeg. Kaewtathip makes massaman as her grandmother taught her: She infuses the spice blend with cardamom for extra aromatics, adds tamarind and palm sugar for a sweet-and-sour tug of war and finishes it with the salty nip of fish sauce. Try the curry with braised beef, and ask for a side of roti to sop the sauce.
Dry-style kua gling curry with ground meat and sataws is one of Burapapituk’s favorites. Stink beans are optional, but their fava-like crunch and earthiness (mild, honestly) provides vegetal contrast to ground pork or chicken; either option trumpets the garlicky, chile-permeated paste in which the whole thing is stir-fried.
Hat Yai-style fried chicken is Kaewtathip’s forte. She dredges the bird lightly in rice flour and fries it twice for a pervasive, nearly batter-free crispness. A vinegary sweet chile sauce awaits; so does a pile of fried shallots, into which you want to plunk the chicken with the glee of children jumping into heaps of autumn leaves.
Kaewtathip and Burapapituk operate two other businesses, with a third on the way. Crying Tiger, in Hollywood’s Black Rabbit Rose magic lounge, serves a pared-down version of jade noodles along with spicy beef salad and crab fried rice from a carry-out window. Noree Thai arrived on Beverly Boulevard in 2018. There the massaman comes with lamb chops; dishes such as vegetarian lettuce cups fall under a “Healthy Mind and Body” menu section. They’re also readying Luv2eat Express to open a couple of doors down from its progenitor. Hainanese chicken rice will be among the options.
So far, the pair hasn’t quite duplicated the heart of the original Luv2eat at its other restaurants. My affection for the place has developed almost unconsciously over the last year. I realized it when a friend I’ve known for 30 years visited recently. She’d lived in L.A. in the 1990s, and I fretted over taking her somewhere that would reflect the city’s current glory. She wanted Thai food. We had a Saturday lunch of jade noodles, fish curry and moo-ping (the marinated pork skewers served with limey dipping sauce) and warm sticky rice with cubed mango and coconut milk for dessert. She was elated afterward. Not dizzy, fine-dining happy. Marrowbone, reconnected-with-community happy. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen an out-of-towner react so emphatically to Luv2eat.
She and I stood on the strip-mall sidewalk for a moment after our meal, looking up at a cluster of palm trees framed by a cloudless sky, and at the trippy Crossroads of the World complex across the street. She sighed over the jade noodles again.
“You have it really good here,” she said.
Yes, we do.
Luv2eat Thai Bistro
Location: 6660 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 498-5835, luv2eatthai.com
Prices: salads $11.50-$13; curries $11-$14; noodles $9.50-$15. “Chefs’ Specials” entrees $12-$21
Details: Some credit cards accepted. No alcohol. Lot and street parking. Wheelchair accessible.
Recommended dishes: jade noodles, fish or crab curry, massaman curry, papaya salad tum Thai (tray size, with garnishes), kua gling, mangoes with sticky rice
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