One of the realities about eating in Los Angeles is that an exceptional meal by definition is an ephemeral thing. A restaurant that is the toast of the town one month can suddenly change owners (see Ord Noodle), or swap chefs (see Mariscos Chente) or simply start failing to delivery on its own amassed hype (see Mo Chica). The point is life happens, seasons change, and for every astounding new restaurant that emerges, another starts to fall by the wayside. Yet, as in all things, they’re are exceptions to the rule. The best example I have seen in this particular case is that of the quiet strip mall gem, Sapp’s Coffee Shop. For years, Sapp’s Thai dishes have had praise heaped upon them from countless sources: Anthony Bourdain, Jonathan Gold, along with scores upon scores of bloggers. When I first moved to LA in 2006, I ate at Sapp’s on a friend’s recommendation and ordered the famous boat noodles. Like many others, I was floored by the intense and lingering flavor of the broth: sour, salty, spicy and sweet, each in perfect measure. But to be honest, I haven’t returned often since then, for no other reason than that I always seemed to be was headed elsewhere when passing tiny Sapp’s on Hollywood Boulevard.
But as fate would have it, I found myself in Thai Town recently during a particularly sleepy afternoon with time to spare and a craving for boat noodle soup. Despite Sapp’s popularity it has maintained a relatively low profile. The walls are covered not in glowing reviews or celebrity-signed photos, but rather ancient portraits of monks and temples. I had originally arrived hoping to try the ‘off-menu’ green mango salad, but as the waitress explained it would be another month or so before mangos were in proper season. I opted for a substantial lunch: an order of beef boat noodles, green papaya salad, and sticky rice. The boat noodles arrived quickly, followed shortly by a soothing pale orange thai iced tea which served as a milky sweet contrast to the soup’s heat. Though many have waxed poetic about the soup’s rich and funky broth thickened with pork blood, what really sets Sapp’s apart is their meat: beef meatballs that resemble smooth clay marbles, crunchy twists of fried pork skin, along with other long-simmered bits of offal. The thin, al-dente noodles are best for soaking up the spicy broth and are similar in texture to what you find at a good Japanese ramen house. The papaya salad was superb paired with a side of sticky rice, though I’ve rarely had a version of this dish I’ve not enjoyed. Sapp’s salad leans heavily on the sourness of lime juice and saltiness from the dried shrimp, only balanced out by a hint of sugar and sweet roasted peanuts. My waitress doted on me often, making sure I properly mixed the salad between bites to ensure a taste of each flavor. In fact, every waitress stopped by more then once to ask me how my meal was or if it was spicy enough for my tastes. Though I’m far from immune to flattery, I was nonetheless impressed by Sapp’s enduring commitment to both service and cuisine. This operated with the enthusiasm of a place that had been open for less than 7 months never mind 7 years. In a land of infinite hype and overstatement, Sapp’s remains one noodle house that is still worth its salt.
Sapp’s Coffee Shop
5183 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027
$ – Cash Only