The Chicken Noodle Soup with tons of fresh pink garlic has wide rice noodles and a boneless, skinless, sliced, clean-poached chicken breast with a small handful of bean sprouts...the perfect ""Thai penicillin"" when you're feeling under the weather or catching a cold. We've been counting on this soup as a half-the-time alternate to all-curing Matzoh Ball Soup for many years. Lately there has been a strange smell to the soup once or twice, and an overwhelming smell of bleach on the plastic spoons, that permeates the soup... hope they pay attention to these.
Despite being warned by one waitress at the Hollywood location that I won't like it (too authentic, too bitter, not for ""American"" tastes), I LOVE the Koo Chai (both steamed and fried)-- 3 chewy, sticky, rice-noodle dough covered chubby dumplings filled with slightly bitter, chard-like stir-fried dark greens, with a deep espresso-brown, sweet/salty hoisin-type dipping sauce.
The spicy, barely-warm Larb (a wok-tossed minced meat...salad? relish? escabeche?) is mighty tasty, not just hot and peppery, but tangy, too, with a bit of onion and lots of fresh lime juice, and topped with ground rice powder for texture.
Actually, the Duck Salad and the ""Naked"" Shrimp Salad are highlights, full of life with lots of fresh herbs (cilantro plays a big role in Thai food), tangy with lime juice, spicy with chilis--and more of those chilis in 3 hellishly hot variations on each table.
A unique Sanamluang Cafe specialty is the ""Indian Curry Noodle Soup"" which is a giant bowl of seriously spicy, wet, brown curry-sauced spaghetti-shaped noodles, perfumed with some star anise and a bit of Chinese 5-spice flavor added to the heat, topped with huge chunks of tender, long-stewed beef, and hard-boiled egg halves with (I believe) crushed peanuts. Unlike the Chicken Noodle soup, this one has more solid ingredients than soup. Plenty spicy...plenty good!
Of course the classics are good here, too, such as Paht Thai noodles and Tom Kha Kai (spicy coconut soup with chicken, shrimp, chilis, straw mushrooms, scallions, cilantro, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangka--the last 3 ingredients not actually edible, as in chewable, but what a fantastic, inimitable taste they impart). Can you tell that it's time for me to go back soon?
Just watch out for the mediocre Chinese-style food, like fried wontons, eggrolls, (served with corn syrup-based commercial-tasting sweet sauce) and anything with the red-dyed, old-tasting Char Sui (barbequed pork). And do try the popular Satay-- chicken skewers with peanut dipping sauce and a terrific cucmber relish.
Pros: Zesty, lively food, open very late, cheap...
Cons: Can be very busy, noisy, with a wait. Some dishes vary.