Hidden Garden; Westside good Thai papaya salad


#1

The usual caveat that this is the westside and having appropriate expectations. I’ve been searching for an acceptable papaya salad on the westside for a while. My two favorite westside Thai, Ekkamai and BKK 101 have dishes I adore but neither of their papaya salads came close to scratching the itch and I would just stick to their other dishes.

The quick summary, their papaya salad is very good and the best I’ve had on the westside, I’ll go back and get it regularly, especially if I’m trying to eat healthy but still want good flavors. The rest of the menu seem to hit and miss and definitely some landmines. They offer several varieties of papaya salad I want to try, including a fried version, a salted crab, salted egg, a soft shell crab and a corn one.

The longer description, no pics due to company.

A few months ago, I noticed new ownership for the Thai restaurant in the same center as Mateo’s on Sepulveda in Culver City, down the block from the old skating rink. The previous restaurant had a very generic menu and I was never compelled to try them.

Walking past the new place, it had a completely different vibe and a much more intriguing menu. Site has the full menu and prices.

HiddenGarden

With holiday madness over, I finally made it over there. It’s a small place, maybe two dozen seats max. They also seem to have a very steady takeout and delivery business.

The service despite the volume was very attentive and friendly. We ordered:

Veggie egg rolls $6, Issan Sausage $8, regular papaya salad $9, Panang beef curry $15, Pad Thai $12, Eggplant with tofu $12 and a dessert of the fried banana $12. Some Thai iced coffees $3 each. Rice is ala carte, $2 bowl for jasmine, $3 for sticky.

Not the most exciting selection but we had to accommodate people in our party. Overall, most of the dishes were pedestrian. The QPR was not great whether comparing to other westside locations or outside the westside.

Standouts were the papaya salad and the beef curry. Papaya salad had a good balance of flavors with acidity and bite, generous sprinkling of dried shrimp and overall had the right texture. The curry sauce was a hit and everyone was fighting over it to mix with the rice.

The pad thai had mixed reviews but I took that to be a good thing. It was not what you’d traditionally get with a lot of average Thai places. It wasn’t the gloopy overly sweet with ketchup type sauce. It was a lighter version, not very sweet, on the dry side, some subtle tamarind. It hit that weird zone of not being “authentic” enough for experienced Thai diners but too different for people who are used to takeout Thai.

The veggie rolls were for forgettable, four tiny fried egg rolls with a mushy underseasoned minced vegetable filling.

Issan Sausage was average. I thought the spicing was on the bland side and it didn’t have as much juicyness as I’d like.

The eggplant with fried tofu was almost as forgettable. The eggplant was stir fried well but the sauce and tofu was bland.

Fried banana dessert was six tiny triangles of fried dough with a slice of banana inside, drizzled with chocolate and side of whip cream. I didn’t taste any banana and essentially it was a bite of fried dough with chocolate on it.

The Thai iced coffee was way too sweet yet weirdly not creamy enough for me. I felt like they went light on the condensed milk but added extra sugar.

Portions are on the smaller side with prices a few dollars more than average westside Thai. I thought the papaya salad at $9 was the best deal. There’s a steady wait with lots of people coming in.

No idea how spicy they will make dishes as we ordered everything mild and I tasted no heat. The waitress said they will make it spicy and a regular diner overhearing me, chimed in and said their medium can be very hot. But I’ll have to reserve judgement until next time.

Overall, I’ll go back to try their other papaya salad versions, the fried one intrigues me but so does everything else. The rest of the menu does seem to have a lot of landmines. They do have some lunch specials, $10 which comes with rice, papaya salad and a egg roll. One item I noticed on the lunch special is a Thai version of Hainese chicken? It intrigues me.

I feel like this place is trying to go a bit more upscale in how they are presenting their dishes along with the nicer ambiance and charging a little more. I’m all for restaurants making a more comfortable living than hand to mouth, but I do wish most of their dishes were better executed. Still they looked like they have a booming business after the initial newness has worn off, perhaps it was more my tastes.

Thanks for reading, I feel rusty posting and hope that I can get back to posting regularly.


#2

We’ve been going here and Ekkamai for our Westside Thai. The two places kinda complement each other. We feel Hidden Garden nudges Westside Thai expectations higher.


#3

What do you like there? My hit % wasn’t great that first visit.


#4

We also like the papaya salad. The salted crab one is unique for the area.

I think our last visit was before thanksgiving so it’s been a while but…

Their pork dishes are good - grilled or roasted.

Issan sausage is ok but not common around here.

Khaw/kao soi is good.

A few dry noodle dishes were good as well - can’t remember which right now - sorry.


#5

Thanks for the report, I had no idea about the new ownership. Then again, the various Thai places at this location have been sadly awful forever, despite many owner changes over the years.

The newly redone interior is modern, bright, and comfortable, and the staff is kind and helpful. Very positive energy.

Tom Yum, spicy.


So much flavor in this broth! The spice level was perfect for me: a solid, slow burn, but not in the kill zone.

Salted Crab Papaya Salad.


I loved this, it was salty, but that’s to be expected, yes? I wasn’t sure if the little crab legs were for decoration, like clam shells in pasta dishes, or were meant to be somehow eaten. I figured if it’s on the plate, eat it. I picked one up and sucked it like a crawfish. It was very fermenty-tasting and funky in a good way, so I sucked on the rest of them too. Correct me if I’m wrong, please. :slight_smile:

It’s sweet, but when I ordered the salted crab papaya salad, the server asked me if I’d ever had it, and pointed at the menu to make sure I saw the description. Then she went and told the other girl what I’d ordered and they both smiled and looked over and chatted for a minute. Then the second server came over and talked to me some more, explaining that usually only Thai people eat this, and made sure I knew what I was getting. They were both so nice about it.

After I ate nearly the whole plate, my server came over with a smile and told me next time to try the beef rendang, the pineapple curry, and the pad Thai (“best in town”). And I will!


#6

P.S. Can we add “Thai” to the title? For search purposes.


#7

I’m glad you liked it. I was thinking about you since you had made suggestions for Westside papaya salad in the past.

I’m looking forward to trying the rest of the papaya salad varieties.

Our group really liked the Panang curry. A couple of pieces were a bit gristly, but overall good and that sauce was very well done. I liked the Pad Thai, not the best in town but pretty good.

Thanks @frommtron for handling!


#8

Yup. You nailed it.


#9

Quick update on Hidden Garden Thai. I have eaten here several times since my last post, and had delivery several more times.

The secret trick: order spicy, Thai spicy if you can handle it. I get the feeling that they have really great northern Thai curry pastes ready to go, but if you order mild, you are not getting that funk and spice.

The vegan dishes are very good, especially the pad kee mow. The pad Thai I thought was too dry. The pad see ew is excellent. The tom ya goong and “seafood soup” are excellent. I found the kha soi and yellow curry too rich and sweet for my taste. The tofu laab is another good dish. Of all the papaya salads, I still think the fermented crab is the best, but I haven’t tried the fried one yet. Crab fried rice is a yes.

Boat noodles via delivery (no pork blood). :sweat_smile:

I’m not much of a meat eater, so I haven’t tried many meat dishes, but when I ordered grilled chicken or pork dishes for my son, they were a big chewy. Agreeing with earlier posts, stay away from the fried spring rolls. rolls.

Finally, there have been a lot of Thai people eating in lately. Always a good sign. :slight_smile:


#10

I asked for nam pla prik and the manager says, “Namplapreek?”, which I tried to repeat verbatim, “Yes, please, namplapreek.”

She came back with these and said, “You are so cute when you say this.”

So I asked how to say it. She and I went back and forth three or four times working on my accent. It was funny and she was laughing, but with me, not at me. :joy: I was laughing too. People are so great sometimes.


#11

I’m so happy you’re enjoying this place. It’s great to see Westside thai quality going up a couple more notches.

I’ve been meaning to order the papaya salad and the curry Thai spicy but am afraid to do so. Been trying to figure out how to get them to give it to me hotter than most but not Thai spicy by any means. They’re so nice I’m sure I just need to find a slow time to explain when I order.


#12

They always ask me if I want spicy or Thai spicy in a slightly concerned tone. :slight_smile: (I get the regular spicy.)


#13

The one time I got it spicy, I thought I could handle a little more. Not sure if they had toned down the spicy though. I haven’t gone there nearly as much as you and they look like the kind of place that will calibrate for regulars.


#14

Thanks for the heads up about this place! We tried it last week, and it instantly became the future go-to for thai places that will deliver to us. Based on the recs here, I had the panang beef curry and regular papaya salad. Thought both were pretty dang solid. The missus liked the pad see ew, but I didn’t try any of it.

For what it’s worth, I put “Thai Spicy” in the curry instructions, and although it was well and good spicy, I didn’t die. But it definitely had a punch. I’m ok with heat. Not a champ or anything. The only context I can think of is that I can handle Howlin’ Rays Medium, and think I could jump up to Hot, but it might be rough, and I don’t think I’d go above that. Also, who knows if I actually got their version of thai spicy. Kind of tough to tell with delivery.