Seems as if there is no official thread regarding Isaan Station, so thought it might be worth making one since I recently revisited.
Som Dtum Bhu Pla-Rha
Started with some Isaan-style papaya salad, which essentially means it is loaded with intensely fermented fish sauce and raw crab. This is the kind of dish that they will ask you whether you are sure about ordering; always a good sign. The papaya is appropriately crisp and tart while being just a bit sweet, but the funk of crab and fish guts with a hefty amount of pepper turns it into a kind of mystical experience through its brutal assault on the senses. This is certainly something that appeals to a particular subset, but in terms of balance and heat Isaan station does it particularly well. I ordered this at an 8 out of 10, and personally would’ve liked even more heat, but my dining companion couldn’t handle more, so your mileage may vary.
Nahm Dtok Nue
We moved on to what is essentially a charcoal-grilled beef larb. The most unfortunate thing about this was that an 8 out of 10 spice level yielded almost no spiciness, which detracted greatly from the dish for me. Despite this, the spices also felt heavy, and there was not really a noticeable piquancy that I associate with great larbs. The beef had a noticable charcoal smokiness to it though, which was quite pleasant. A solid choice for the unadventurous palate, but a failure as a larb for me.
This dish may piss you off as a diner at Isaan Station because you will wonder why everything that comes out of the kitchen seems to pale in comparison to it. Other than Howlin’ Rays and perhaps the game hen at Hatchet Hall, this is the best chicken in LA. In terms of Kai Yang, it is so far beyond every other version of the dish I have had that it seems like something else altogether. I would even say that this beats most of the high-end chicken at places like Republique, or Maple Block. It is gloriously smokey, subtly sweet, impossibly juicy, with perfectly charred and crisped skin, and fat that is gloriously rendered into pure chicken essence; it is so remarkably delicious that it feels sinful. It comes with two sauces, neither of which are necessary accompaniments to the chicken bliss. After you come down from the MDMA-like high of ingesting every morsel of this glorious bird you will wonder why they haven’t set up a Thai chicken shack and franchised themselves into a global chicken powerhouse.
Isaan sausage is fairly typical at Isaan Station, perhaps overly rice-filled and a touch too sour while not yielding enough porcine essence. They do get an excellent crispness to the casing through deep-frying, but it ultimately feels shockingly forgettable for a place with Isaan in their name.
Fortunately, if you find yourself feeling glum that most of the dishes fell short of the magnanimity of the Kai Yang, you can order the honey toast here, which seems to be a novelty among Thai restaurants. It is a sort of comforting obscenity: what seems to be a small loaf of bread is deep fried to order until crispy on the edges and impossibly fluffy inside; it is then coated with hot melted butter and honey before being topped with vanilla ice cream, which is drizzled with chocolate sauce. Whipped cream, and a scoop of chocolate chip ice cream as well as some random strawberry wafers are inserted on the side; the effect is to bring you back to the way you used to indulge in ice cream as a child: massive scoops, tons of whipped cream, syrups everywhere, and candy! Because why not? In the end, the mouthfuls of fluffy, crispy hot bread teeming with honey and butter juxtaposed against the cool creaminess of the ice cream, along with the sheer insanity of it all ensures you end your time at Isaan Station feeling like a kid again in the best way possible.
All in all, there are some truly remarkable things at Isaan Station. If you can look past some of its shortcomings, it is well worth a venture. The tom saab is also quite good here, but did not fit into the agenda on this visit. This meal came out to $65 with tip/tax (this included 2 orders of sticky rice and a thai tea not pictured though).