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Bua Siam: The Perfect Strip Mall Find

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The strip mall is perhaps Enemy Number One on the list of any urban-architecture appreciator: ugly, merely utilitarian, a breeding-ground for chain fast-food joints and Payless shoe stores. it's often mentioned in the same breath as freeways and silicone as tops on the list of Things To Loftily Despise About Los Angeles.

The real Los Angeles foodie, however, knows that the magic words "well, it's this place hidden away in a strip mall" most often precede some tantalizing lead or revelatory insight into local cuisine: every really great sushi place I've ever been to has had as non-descript an exterior as any nearby liquor store. Same goes for great Mexican places. And this is most certainly the case for Bua Siam, a remarkable and remarkably cheap Thai restaurant out in the near-desolate landscape of Roscoe and Coldwater Canyon in North Hollywood (very close to Wat Thai Temple).

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The most immediate impression you get as you walk into this tiny storefront (located at a corner lined with the most amazing array of ethnic delis and shops - although the Jack N' The Box attracts the most traffic), is that it's a cool, calm retreat from the blare and glare of the traffic outside. Immaculate, identical seashell sculptures line the white-washed walls, and the whole place has a feeling of sophisticated cool that's a welcome surprise in the middle of a hot day - although they stay open til ten.

A pleasant waiter delivers your menu, which is almost as extensive as Jerry's Famous, listing a dizzying array of regional Thai and other Asian-inspired appetizers, noodle bowls, soups, meat and vegetable dishes. All are priced to fit the strip mall - you could easily splurge on a starter and hearty main for $10/person, but that's actually not that best bargain you can get. Bua Thai also offers a menu of small dishes, almost like Thai tapas, priced at $3/plate - and I could only get through about half of the three options I chose (great leftovers, dude!).