I used to walk with my grandmother along the dusty streets of Shanghai every morning to buy a breakfast of fried sesame balls, crispy strips of dough and plastic bags filled with delicious soy milk.
When we got home, she would snip off a corner of the bag, drain the milk into a bowl while it was still warm and watch as I would take it with both of my hands and pour it straight down my throat.
Siam Sunset reawakens my personal memories of humble Chinese breakfasts alongside traditional Thai fare such as noodles and curry. The unassuming cash-only restaurant, tucked against an Americas Best Value Inn, is open from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. – except for when it closes two hours earlier on Sundays – which makes it a veritable breakfast and lunch destination on Sunset Boulevard. Unlike other Thai restaurants, which sometimes cater to overly sweet palates with dishes drenched in cloying sauces, Siam Sunset delivers familiar flavors without sacrificing quality or authenticity.
Traditional breakfast items such as Chinese donuts, ginger juice with tofu pudding and soy milk head the first page of the menu. Although the Chinese donuts – deep-fried sticks of dough and a personal favorite – ran out before 3 p.m., the sweet soup options more than made up for the unfortunate loss.
Tofu pudding comprises many Chinese dishes and is typically served in a soy sauce broth that seeps into the mild flavors of the tofu. But at Siam Sunset, a sweet ginger juice replaced the savory broth, adding a spicy kick to the warm soup.
The soy milk, also served in a bowl, is thick and creamy with a mild sweetness that puts the sugary vanilla inside Silk cartons to shame. Not to be forgotten, the tapioca pearls and barley grains at the bottom offer a hearty bite along with the ribbons of congealed milk suspended in the bowl. Each tapioca pearl, unlike milk tea boba, is soft in texture and translucent in color.
The soup’s dense texture is also reminiscent of traditional soy milk made in China – a flavor achieved through a time-honored process of blending and hand-straining soybeans without any superfluous ingredients or sweeteners. And the ode to tradition extends into the wide selection of entrees as well.
The Northeastern Thailand sausage features evenly crisped cylinders of pork, with sides of peanut, ginger and cabbage. Sausages in Asian cuisines tend to be less finely ground than, say, Italian varieties, which is reflected in the marbled cross section of the meat and the sprinkling of cooked rice incorporated throughout their interiors.
A fermented acidity comes from the cured cuts of pork that renders the flavor of the meat highly addictive. Although the food is simple and pared down, Siam Sunset elevates a straightforward dish – essentially just three slices of sausage – with a complex mixture of tastes and flavors in the meat.
Siam Sunset’s Thai dishes also display great flavors and balance in dishes that other Thai places flatten with overbearing seasonings and sauces, resulting in just one detectable flavor.
Pad thai, perhaps the most popular dish for Thai food novices, is a good litmus test for any Thai restaurant. Siam Sunset’s iteration is visually exciting, with bright orange noodles and a fresh bed of bean sprouts. The noodles have a delightful, firm bite to them, unlike the noodles in other pad thai dishes, which sometime become soggy from being drowned in a syrupy sauce.
The subdued heaviness of the dish highlights the texture of the shrimp and egg without weighing them down with overly saturated ingredients, and the zesty aroma of lime manages to shine through the sauce.
Even with its small-town diner interior and plastic tableware, the dishes prepared at Siam Sunset trump those of higher-end, trendy hybrid Thai restaurants, all for incredibly economical prices. The pad thai costs $6.95, and most menu items come up below $10.
For a consistently delicious meal that provides more than just temporary sustenance, there are simply no complaints.