Is this former vegan making L.A.’s best chicken and rice?

Dark meat chicken and rice from Heng Heng Chicken and Rice in Thai Town.
Dark meat chicken and rice from Heng Heng Chicken and Rice in Thai Town.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

There are certain dishes most people will identify as “comfort food.” Ice cream, any form of cake, grilled cheese, doughnuts, lasagna and burgers are all likely candidates. Growing up in a Chinese American household, it was always rice. Rice in the form of congee, fried rice, rice noodles, stir-fried rice cakes, mochi and Hainan chicken and rice. Bad day at school? Here’s a plate of fried rice studded with extra lap cheong, just the way I like it. Coming down with a cold? A bowl of congee crowded with threads of ginger will fix me right up. Bad breakup? It’s nothing a plate of chicken and rice won’t help.

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This week’s column is about the foods that comfort us, whatever they may be.

Zaab pork and Hainan chicken and rice from Heng Heng Chicken Rice

Zaab crispy pork from Heng Heng Chicken Rice in Thai Town.
Zaab crispy pork from Heng Heng Chicken Rice in Thai Town.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

The new Heng Heng Chicken Rice is a temple of chicken, opened by a former vegan. After years of being vegan and operating the plant-based restaurants Vegan Nova and the Plant Lab, Eve Ramasoot started eating chicken again. And she wanted to open something more in line with her current diet. She left Vegan Nova to her best friend, passed along the Plant Lab to her brother, then opened Heng Heng Chicken Rice in Thai Town in February.


The poultry-intensive menu centers on Hainan chicken and rice, Ramasoot’s favorite childhood comfort food. Growing up in Phitsanulok, a small city north of Bangkok, she ate the dish for breakfast before school and sometimes after.

“Since I was young, it’s like simple and comfort food for everyone,” she said. “You can find Hainan chicken everywhere in Thailand, so Thai people are very used to this dish.”

The chef wakes up at 5 a.m. to buy chickens for the restaurant. She slow-cooks the chicken for hours then uses the broth to make her rice. She offers plates of white meat or dark meat, sliced and arranged on top of garlic rice or noodles. The meat is supple and flabby-skinned with thin strips atop the chicken approaching jelly. The rice underneath is fragrant with garlic. Each grain is its own entity, slick with enough oil to make the mound feel indulgent.

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Wanting to offer more variety for her customers, Ramasoot makes garlic noodles as well. You can order them as a side, or with your chicken instead of rice. The golden egg noodles are chewy, slightly sweet and full of bits of both crispy garlic and crispy pork, making them incredibly difficult to stop eating.

While you may have walked through the door intending to order the chicken, order the zaab crispy pork too. It was inspired by a spicy chicken she had at a KFC in Thailand and another childhood favorite, laarb. The name zaab, she explained, means “something spicy and delicious.”

Ramasoot marinates her pork with soy sauce and then dunks it into a wet batter before deep-frying it. It’s sliced thin, giving each piece a tender middle and a thin coating of crunchy skin. She dresses the meat in lime juice laced with dried chile and ground, roasted rice powder that vibrates with heat and citrus. The sliced pork glistens under slivers of red onion, cilantro and green onion.

My lunch companion remarked that the first bite of zaab crispy pork was like discovering an entirely new world. I couldn’t agree more. A new world filled with the meat salad of your dreams, if you, like me, dream of such things.


The best part about the Heng Heng experience, though, may be the giant jugs of Hainan chicken sauce on the tables. At Heng Heng, you can pour as much sauce as you’d like, at no extra charge. Ramasoot’s sauce is a deep brown condiment with a soybean paste base, seasoned with fish sauce, brown sugar, fresh garlic, chile and ginger. Next to the sauce, there’s a container of chopped ginger and another of chopped chiles. Feel free to dial up the heat and ginger until your eyes water.

Puffy pizza and prawns from Bar Monette

Crab and pesto pizza with a side of dill crème fraîche dip from Bar Monette in Santa Monica.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

During the COVID-19 shutdown in Toronto, chef Sean MacDonald took a deep dive into making pizza.

“I used to be like really fine dining,” he said on a recent call. “We did 12-course tasting menus and then COVID happened.”

He started watching pizza videos on Youtube, then made dough his obsession, testing his pizza every day for 6 months. His pandemic hobby is now the main attraction at Bar Monette, the tiny (26-person capacity) Santa Monica restaurant he opened in April.

“I came to Los Angeles and I knew I wanted to do pizza,” he said.

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It’s difficult to fit MacDonald’s style of pizza into a box. It’s Neapolitan-ish, but reminiscent of the Japanese-influenced pies you’ll find at Pizzeria Sei in Pico-Robertson. MacDonald takes the idea of puffy crust to the extreme with a wall of dough surrounding each pizza as thick as the sleeves on Gigi Hadid‘s puffer coat at last year’s Met Gala.


I glanced around the dining room to see if everyone’s crusts were as puffy as mine. They were, and beautifully spotted with giant charred bubbles. Crispier and airier than your average Neapolitan-style pizza, MacDonald’s crust has just enough chew and a lot more salt.

There are a handful of toppings to choose from, but the pesto and Dungeness crab is a current favorite. The sauce is a vibrant green pesto thinned with lemon juice. MacDonald adds fresh Dungeness crab then bakes the pie and tops it with frisée dressed with citrus vinaigrette and lots of Parmesan cheese.

Regardless of the toppings, you’ll need to choose a dip for your crust. Listed on the menu as “sugo,” MacDonald is making a handful of condiments for dipping.

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“I almost wanted it to be like Mediterranean in the sense of like taking pita and dipping it into hummus,” he said. “I wanted to do like refined dips and just have it so you can really scrape it up and use the rest of the pizza crust.”

The crème fraîche with dill made an ideal pairing for the crab pizza. But there’s a jalapeno tonnato I’ve got my eye on for my next visit.

Prawns from Bar Monette in Santa Monica.
Prawns from Bar Monette in Santa Monica.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Scraping your plate seems to be the norm at this restaurant, with your crust and the charcoal-grilled prawns. The prawns are doused in a deep orange saffron bisque made with roasted prawn shells and butter. They’re swimming in the sauce, but it wasn’t enough. I scraped the plate with my knife, my fork and eventually my fingers.

Where to eat now

Heng Heng Chicken Rice, 5420 Hollywood Blvd., (323) 380-7875,

Bar Monette, 109 Santa Monica Blvd., Santa Monica, (310) 310-8575,