'So Long, Hi' Brings The Heat (And Flavorful Thai Fare) To Downtown
It's humid at So Long, Hi, the new Thai joint that just opened a couple storefronts down from Bottega Louie in downtown. At least, that's the sense that's being conveyed by the decor. In its attempt to re-create a scene from the Phuket province, the restaurant has evoked the tropical heat of the Indochinese Peninsula. This is most evident in the back patio, which is outfitted with astroturf, umbrellas festooned with the Chang elephant emblem, and a stringing of miniature national flags hanging overhead. There's even a fake palm tree for good measure. Inside, the space is splashed with Technicolor cantina pastels. In the middle of the room is a billiards table, at which you could envision the milieu of pool sharks standing by. There's a feeling that the space is smoky, a bit stifling (even if it's not). A mai tai, anyone?
While plenty of artifice goes into the restaurant's visual appeal, it's a different story inside the kitchen. As co-owners David Tewasart (of Side Chick and Sticky Rice) and Bryan Sharafkhah-Sharp (White Guy Pad Thai) inform LAist, the dishes are entirely singular, eschewing any outside (i.e. Western) influences. "We tell the guys in the kitchen to cook it the way they want to eat it," Sharafkhah-Sharp told LAist.
This was actually a tricky process at first; as Tewasart added, the team of chefs was carried over from the previous eatery at the space (the former Soi7, which espoused a weirdly austere vibe with its gray interiors). The chefs, who only speak Thai, came in with the same mindset that they'd been ingrained with in the past, which is to say they tried to be mindful of what patrons would be amenable to. Tewasart decided to throw this ethos out the window. "We'd be in the kitchen, and I try something that they'd made for themselves and I'm like 'This is amazing. Don't hold out on us on this,'" said Tewasart. "They just didn't think people would like it."
As such, the menu at So Long, Hi is strong with unabashedly bold flavors. Our favorite item might be the kor moo yang, slices of grilled pork neck that are heavy with that sweet and smoky flavor drawn out by a slow-burning fire. The meat is exquisitely tender, and the texture is even throughout—bringing to mind the soft give of abalone. We also enjoyed the nam tok, a salad of grilled beef (or pork) and romaine lettuce. The maelstrom of onion, mint, and spicy tamarind dressing will wake up your senses; there's a burn that toes the line between hot and cold (like Hot N' Cold!).
When we asked Sharafkhah-Sharp for a signature item, he pointed to the appetizers on the menu. The offerings include the iced vegetable plate, an unassuming dish of lettuce, cucumbers, carrots, and pork rinds. The real star of this menagerie, however, is the dipping sauce, a nam prik noom salsa that's rife with chilies that burn slowly and surely. The heat isn't all that profound at first, but it sneaks up on you, and suddenly you realize the purpose of the chilled veggies.
The roti with green curry is another notable. Stylized like a plate of chips and dip, it would seem as if the dish betrays the kitchen's push to stay sovereign. But the gambit works; the roti is pan-fried to a flaky crisp, and the flavors of the curry come in subtle gradients, bearing a complexity that might catch you off-guard. The appetizers, indeed, figure to be a big player, and they pair well with the offerings from the formidable bar (yes, they sling out a mean mai tai).
What else? There are the staples, too. Like a delectable (and smoldering) tom yum soup, and a pad kee mao ("drunken noodles") that bears that familiar fragrance of basil, garlic, and sweet soy sauce—recognizable fare to some, but done up for maximum gratification. For a change of scenery, you might want to try their yum ruam mit, a "seafood salad" of shrimp, bay scallops, and Chinese celery.
In general, the menu here is a lot like the colorful kaleidoscope of the decor: striking, almost single-minded in how they grab your attention. You might also notice a loose-limbed nature to both the food and atmosphere. On the day of our visit, a DJ was playing in a corner of the room, children were skirting by, and Hawaiian-shirted patrons lazed out in the back patio. A somewhat improbable scene in downtown L.A., but certainly a welcomed change of pace.
So Long, Hi is located at 518 W 7th St, downtown Los Angeles.