If Alexander Graham Bell saw how you used your phone, he’d be pretty confused. He wouldn’t believe it’s possible to look up pictures of the world’s biggest turtle at 3am because you can’t sleep. Or to use this device to find a restaurant when you’re on a work trip in Boise, get directions there, then pay for your food once you arrive. Because that so-called phone is actually a computer with 100,000 times more processing power than the one Apollo 11 used to get to the moon.
Thai Town’s Sapp Coffee Shop is a coffee shop much in the same way that the supercomputer in your pocket is just a phone. Yes, Sapp has been serving coffee since the ’80s, and yes, people drink it, but calling it a coffee shop is selling it short - because coffee is far from the number-one priority here. In fact, it’s probably somewhere around the 93rd - behind the other 92 things on the massive, illustrated menu.
We couldn’t tell you exactly what the number-one priority is, but we can tell you what ours is: the boat noodle soup. This incredibly complex dish has a huge combination of flavors and textures. It’s funky, spicy, sour, and sweet, with a cinnamon, galangal (a piney relative of ginger), and anise broth that envelops tender slices of beef filet and adds incredible depth of flavor. Ordering your bowl “with beef and everything” - which you should - makes those flavors even deeper, thanks to the addition of tripe, liver, and tendon to the mix. And floating atop it all are bits of fried pork skin, crunchy bean sprouts, and silky, slightly firm noodles, ensuring no two bites or slurps will be the same.
Or, maybe the priority is another soup. The tom ka kai has a nearly perfect coconut broth, loaded with mushrooms, peppers, and huge hunks of lemongrass that give it a deep tanginess that balances out the spice. The shrimp wonton soup is excellent, too - a simple, not-overly-salty broth with huge shrimps packed inside each chewy noodle pouch. And the jade noodles (which are brothless, but still listed as a noodle soup) are fantastic. A big bowl of noodles, peanuts, cilantro, dried crab, BBQ pork, and roast duck, it may sound like a lot, but the flavors blend seamlessly, and are tied together by the spinachy green noodles.
All of it is served with zero frills, which is, frankly, refreshing. In an era where much of Thai Town is changing, Sapp is a constant. It’s open until 7:45 nightly, is cash only, and doesn’t serve beer or wine. And when even the best Thai spots in town have made the move towards sweeter pad thais - dishes that are less fishy than the versions found in Thailand - Sapp’s haven’t changed at all. Their noodles are pungent, sticky, and tart (we like them best, by the way, with fresh blue crab, on the menu as sen chan pad pu).
That Sapp remains the same is a good thing - because despite constant mentions by other food writers and an appearance on No Reservations, the reason you (and likely everyone else at the other nine tables) are there hasn’t changed, either. You can walk in at any time, be seated immediately, and have a quick, cheap, incredible meal. You just can’t pay with your phone - and for that, we’re grateful.
Tom Ka Kai
People have all different secrets when they’re sick: Not leaving bed, drinking a lot of liquids, hiring a witch doctor, etc. Those help, but not nearly as much as this tangy, sweet, and spicy coconut soup.
Yum Woon Seen
There are a lot of great salads involving different kinds of meat at Sapp. The one we usually go for, though, is this grilled shrimp one. It’s spicy, minty, and tastes like a plate full of springtime.
Sen Chan Pad Pu
Sapp’s pad thai is more tamarind-y, fishy, and pungent than most others in Thai Town. It’s excellent, and made even better in this version, which has blue crab stir fried with the egg.
Crab Fried Rice With Red Curry Paste
This crab fried rice is a bomb of salt and curry spice, balanced out by the meaty crab. Order it.
Boat Noodle Soup
This big, flavorful bowl of boat noodle soup is a Los Angeles icon on par with the Griffith Observatory (which you can see from the corner outside Sapp, by the way).
We love these jade noodles because, even though they’re loaded with peanuts, cilantro, duck, pork, and dried crab, they remain impeccably balanced. The flavors meld together to create a sum greater than its parts, like Thanos’s Infinity Gauntlet.