LAReview

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Mae Malai spread
8.0

Mae Malai

Thai

Thai Town

$$$$Perfect For:Casual Weeknight Dinner
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Mae Malai originally started as a street vendor in Thai Town, which, at times, was less than convenient—a night might involve circling the block for a meter, fishing out a forgotten $10 bill from the glove compartment, or speed walking to the nearest ATM because we forgot to get cash (again). It was a pain in the butt, but we never cared because their incredible boat noodles were worth it.

Mae Malai interior

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Mae Malai boat noodles

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Mae Malai exterior

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Mae Malai noodle pull

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Mae Malai tom yum

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Mae Malai interior
Mae Malai boat noodles
Mae Malai exterior
Mae Malai noodle pull
Mae Malai tom yum

Without getting too nostalgic over a bowl of soup, we’re happy to say Mae Malai’s brick-and-mortar is not only as good as their street stand, but even better. Their home is now a barebones strip mall space just a block away, equipped with card readers and ample parking (thank goodness). And, like the kitchen space, the menu has expanded, too. You can walk in for a casual lunch or dinner that entails shrimp-filled omelets, housemade lemongrass-y Northern Thai sausage, and a “poached and dipped beef” dish that’s essentially a spicy, funky offal salad with liver, tripe, and plenty of lime juice. Still, you’re probably coming here for the boat noodles, which are some of the best in the city.

For $9, you’re served a small cup of chewy rice noodles, juicy pork-beef meatballs, and crackly pork rinds, all swimming in an incredibly sharp-spicy-sour broth. If you like intense, in-your-face flavors that light up taste buds you didn’t know you had, you’ll want seconds. Ordering is customizable, from noodle shape to spice level. We won’t assume your heat tolerance, but if you order “Thai spicy,” the friendly staff will try to talk you out of it. Make of that what you will, but even medium spicy is enough to make us glisten like we’re wearing a trash bag in a sauna.

As special as the sensation of slurping this delicious, murky broth on the sidewalk was, Mae Malai is much more accessible now. It’s also never too busy, which makes it a great option for group walk-ins or just a quick, delicious, and reasonably-priced meal. And that comes in handy, especially when other Thai Town restaurants get packed on busy nights and wait times surpass your parking meter. Salvage the night and treat whoever you wish to some incredible noodles at Mae Malai.

Food Rundown

Mae Malai boat noodles

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Boat Noodles

Have you experienced adulthood if you’ve never filed taxes? No. Have you experienced Mae Malai if you don’t order this dish? Again, no. Ordering these noodles is non-negiotable, but you do have the freedom to tweak a few details, like a choice of pork or beef, noodle width, and spice level. The dark, sour-spicy broth is so punchy it jolts the sides of your mouth. There’s a slight offal funk going on, too, but it’s balanced with fish sauce and sweet basil. Just know that when we say this soup is spicy, we mean it— levels range from mild (spicy) to Thai spicy (heart palpitations), so trust your gut.

I-Saan Sausage

These plump sausages are fatty lemongrass bombs, and we love them. They’re glossy on the outside with a snappy casing and juicy inside with a subtle fermented funk. Order them as a pre-noodle table snack.

Mae Malai Tom Yum soup

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Tom Yum Noodle

If the boat noodles seem too intense, get these instead. They include the same meatballs, noodles, and pork rinds but with a sweeter, more citrusy tom yum broth that’s extremely flavorful (and still spicy), plus a bowtie-shaped fried wonton on top. They’re only available in the large size, so unless you’re really hungry, one bowl will fill you up.

Mae Malai thai omelette

photo credit: Jessie Clapp

Thai Omelette

This crispy egg frisbee is all crunch, which is why we prefer to order it with ground shrimp. The occasional bites of tender seafood lighten up this fried-to-a-crisp omelet that’s still glistening with oil. It can feel like a lot of egg to get through, so order to share.

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FOOD RUNDOWN

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