46 W. Valley Blvd.
Lunch and dinner, every day.
The Food: It's a Small World After All - in what used to be a branch of Noodle World, a shift from Pan-Asian noodles to one of the biggest Thai menus in town, a compendium of every soup and salad, curry and noodle dish you can imagine, served with breath-taking speed, in oversized portions, at undersized prices.
About $15 per person. MC, V.
Beer and soft drinks.
24 W. Colorado Blvd.
(Also: 932 Huntington Drive, San Marino, (626) 300-1010, and 700 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 293-8800)
Lunch and dinner, every day.
The Food: The subtitle is "Asian Noodle House." And that sums it up pretty well, for this is a bestiary of noodles (and more) from Vietnam, China, Thailand, Japan and a few other spots in Southeast Asia as well, served not just in the Asian enclave of Alhambra, but in the heart of Old Pasadena, and in San Marino as well. Proof that everybody likes their noodles.
About $15 per person. Cash only.
Beer and soft drinks.
Delicious options revolve around Thai World and Noodle World
By Merrill Shindler
Article Launched: 09/25/2008 07:05:00 PM PDT
THAI WORLD A Taste of Bangkok Restaurant located at 46 W. Valley Boulevard in Alhambra, September 17, 2008. Thai style sour sausage stuffed with ground pork, rice and spices with fresh vegetables left, Seafood Hot Pot, combination of shrimp, scallops, squid, fish filet and mussel in spicy tom yum soup served in a hot pot. Steamed Lemon Fish Fillet, right front row served with spicy garlic and lemon sauce right. Thai Spicy Noodles, back row top left, shrimp, rice noodles stir fried with garlic, chili, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, bean sprouts, basil and chilli paste and ARB, chicken tossed with onions, cilantro, roasted rice powder, chilli flakes and fresh lime juice, right top of photo. (Staff Photo by Walt Mancini)
In the Asian enclaves of the San Gabriel Valley, you don't so much follow the bouncing ball, as you follow the bouncing cuisine.
The space at 46 W. Valley Blvd. in Alhambra used to be home to a branch of Noodle World. Then, this iconic Alhambra eatery moved about half a mile west, settling at 700 W. Valley Boulevard. And its place was taken by the noodle-intensive (though not necessarily noodle-obsessed) Thai World - a reminder that for many of us, Thai food is one of the most (if not the most) satisfying cuisine in Southeast Asia. Or to put it another way - there's always room for pad Thai and naked shrimp.
Thai World sits in what was, at some point in the distant past, an American diner. And it still looks like the sort of place that could be serving chicken fried steak, meatloaf with mushroom gravy, and burgers topped with bacon and guac. Instead, it's evolved into the land of heo kho Thai lan (Thai pork jerky) and tom yum (spicy lemongrass soup with mushrooms and, if you're me, shrimp as well).
As is often the case at Thai restaurants, a perfectly enjoyable meal can be cobbled together from the appetizers alone. The fried wontons are pretty much a classic - ground shrimp and pork in crunchy wrappers, with a sweet-spicy sauce that's hard to resist. I always order the Thai satay (chicken or beef in this case) both because I like the simple pleasure of meat on a stick, but also because too many restaurants muck up the dish by overcooking the meat (I've encountered chicken satays that have been turned into Weapons of Mass Dyspepsia), and serving it with a peanut sauce that's more gunk than good.
In this case, it's all good - and like the sweet-spicy sauce, the peanut is impossible to stop eating.
There's much more, of course: deepfried tofu that's actually worth eating; vegetarian eggrolls filled with some absurdly tasty black mushrooms; funky Thai sausage with its oddly sour flavor, deep fried till each morsel crackles. And how about the grilled pork meatballs in a honey sauce? Not so much sweet & sour as it is sweet & sweeter.
If you feel like going for a Big Soup, there's the spicy Thai menudo hot pot, made with beef tripe, beef tendon and sliced kidneys - a giant bubbling morass of parts and more parts. And if you haven't discovered the wonderful world of Siamese salads, this is a fine place to start. I count an even dozen on the menu, including a very snappy toss of shredded greed papaya (less odd than it sounds) with dried shrimp and roasted peanuts: and a super snappy "Waterfall Salad" made with grilled sirloin, onions, cilantro, chili powder and lime juice - yeow!
When it gets down to the fundamentals, the basic dishes are all done well - the Thai barbecue chicken is a joy, and real treat for $8 for a lot of bird.
If you want to wander a tad afield, head for the Thai omelette, made with pork, chicken or shrimp, which should put to ruin any future desire to eat a more mundane Western omelette.
There's a colorful seafood basket made of banana leaves, filled with an assortment of fish cooked in curry paste; what's not to love? Actually, this particular "Taste of Bangkok" (as it says on the menu) is seafood: heavy deep fried catfish with chili and basil, whole seabass in a garlic and lemon sauce, deep fried seabass in chili sauce, even trout topped with mint leaves and served with a green apple salsa. Noodles come both dry and in soup, and they travel home very well. I should know; it's hard to eat at Thai World and not order way too much.
As I said, Noodle World (not to be confused with Noodle Planet or Noodle City) used to sit in the space that's now Thai World. It's moved down the block to a new location, while spawning other locations in San Marino and Old Pasadena. And it's the Old Pasadena location that does a great job of expanding the culinary stew along Colorado Boulevard - in a part of the world where pasta is everywhere, it's nice to run into a restaurant that's dedicated to noodles instead.
It also adds to my contention that the San Gabriel Valley has evolved into the Noodle Capital of the Known Universe. Just add all those Vietnamese pho shops and Taiwanese noodle and dumpling houses to the Italian mix, and you've got noodles uber alles.
As a noodlery goes, the Old Pasadena Noodle World is actually a modest space, a function no doubt of the high rents along Colorado. Though that's not reflected in the prices; it would be hard to spend much more than $15 a person for a full meal here. And by a full meal, I mean a selection of appetizers like Thai chicken wings (wing stuffed with ground chicken and black mushrooms, with a sweet & sour sauce), chicken satay hand rolls, and a very good Thai barbecue chicken salad - one of those best-of-all-worlds sort of dishes.
The choice of noodles meanders about Asia, pausing in Vietnam for fist-sized hunks of vermicelli dunked in soup - the sort of food you might expect were the Carnegie Deli to open in Saigon. This is comfort food incarnate, highly carnivorous (there aren't a lot of dishes that don't involve beef or pork, or beef and pork), and potentially highly spiced as well - in the usual noodle house style, there's a colorful selection of condiments on every table.
From China come dishes made with a choice of rice noodles or egg noodles - the chicken with egg noodles continues that image of the Carnegie Deli; it's a very Jewish-tasting dish. Though I'm pretty happy digging into an order of the teo chew noodles with wontons - a happy mishmash of shrimp, chicken, pork, fish balls, fish cakes and dumplings in soup with noodles; that's a lot of dish.
On the Japanese side of things, there are three udons and two ramens. And Thailand is good for plenty of vermicelli noodle soups; try the seafood tom kah with shrimp, mussels, squid, ersatz crab, fish balls, fish cakes and mushrooms; good luck finishing more than a fraction of it. Not all the noodles, of course, are soupy. There's a menu section of "Soupless Noodles," another of pan-fried noodles - and look at this, just above the rice dishes is a section of "Pasta" - seafood spaghetti, spicy spaghetti, spicy seafood spaghetti, chicken curry spaghetti, and beef Panang spaghetti. Sadly, there are no noodles for dessert, though there is a dessert made of sticky rice and mango. That comes close. In Noodle World, anything is possible.