Monthly Archives: November 2010

Leftovers: El Pollo Imperial

Drive-through Peruvian in North Long Beach for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by GARY FRIEDMAN / L.A. TIMES

A voice crackles from the tinny speaker in the kitchen, and the staff at El Pollo Imperial listens closely to someone in a minivan at the drive-through window placing an order — not for pallid hamburgers stacked two patties high or limp fish encased in sheaths of greasy batter, but for stunningly fresh ceviche and impeccable lomo saltado, the Peruvian dish of stir-fried beef and French fries.

El Pollo Imperial inherited its fast-food trappings. Six months ago, partners Oscar Ramirez and Carlos and Alicia Cortez repurposed a shuttered KFC in North Long Beach, adapting even the drive-through to the restaurant’s new Peruvian flavors. It’s a significant transformation for this stretch of Atlantic Avenue, a neighborhood where ship supply companies occupy former Chinese restaurants and a striking Art Deco theater awaits demolition.

There are playful nods to El Pollo Imperial’s Kentucky Fried past: its avian name, its feathered mascot outfitted like Incan royalty. But the restaurant isn’t a mere paean to poultry. Though you certainly will order pollo a la brasa on your initial visit — juicy, well-seasoned rotisserie chicken that demands to be eaten with your hands — the impressive breadth of the restaurant’s menu will compel you to try any of the dozens of other dishes.

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Leftovers: Tom Yum Koong

Crossing the border into Laos for the L.A. Times:


PHOTO by LUIS SINCO / L.A. TIMES

Thatched baskets of sticky rice arrive alongside tart pork sausages still sputtering from the pan. Papaya salad follows, the strands of green, unripened fruit stained a murky brown from fermented blue crab paste. At Tom Yum Koong in Westminster, among the offal-laden boat noodles and coconut-rich curries of Thailand are the flavors of Laos.

Traffic flows past Tom Yum Koong in a stream of steel and rubber, pouring off the nearby freeway into the concrete delta of strip malls and suburban churches. The restaurant is looked at and looked over. To some, it may look like just another neighborhood Thai restaurant: salads sluiced with lime juice and chiles, broad rice noodles snaking through puddles of soy sauce. But the kitchen maintains a distinct duality, capable in Thai and Laotian cooking.

Tom Yum Koong’s Laotian influence belongs to chef and owner Manivanh Chansmouth. She and her family purchased the restaurant two years ago, restyling it with warm chocolate walls and a constellation of paper lanterns. Owing to her Laotian heritage, Chansmouth retrofitted the menu by adding a concise selection of Laotian specialties and Isaan-style Thai favorites. The latter are Laos-influenced dishes from Isaan, Thailand’s northeastern region that sits just across the Mekong River from Laos.

Read the rest here.

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