I was able to meet up with Kirk aka mmm-yoso during my trip to San Diego. What a true delight! It's always a little awkward to meet fellow food bloggers in REAL LIFE-- does he talk the way he write? what will he order? should I tell him I loved his post on that dim sum spot in LA?-- but the second I met Kirk it were as though we were old friends.
He had suggested Sab-E-Lee for a Thai lunch. I thought to myself, Alright! Get ready for some pad thai and tom yum! HA!!! Joke's on me! I should have known that I would only get the real deal experience when dining with mmm-yoso (whose blog features mostly hole-in-the wall, best-of-the-best strip mall joints in Southern California, where the menus usually only come in the cuisine's native language) .
He knew the entire staff, who all greeted him with wide smiles when we walked in. Naturally, I let him order. Although Kirk is Japanese-Hawaiian, he seems to know every language and ordered everything in Thai, with ease. Whoa. Real Deal.
One thing I did crave as something like the Morning Glory salad at Jitlada, which I've been on a mad hunt for since I had it in LA. The watercress was not deep fried here, but rather sauteed in a bean sauce. It was garlicy, and a bit spicy from a few red peppers and a sansho-like white pepper sprinkled on top.
Already, I knew that this was unlike any Thai food I had ever had. Turns out that this location of Sab-E-Lee, in Linda Vista, is the original (there are two locations now) and specializes in Issan style Thai cuisine. Kirk explains:
The cuisine of Issan, the Northeast region of Thailand, features the use of many raw ingredients, liberal use of chilies, with a bracing sourness. Issan is probably most well-known for the Som Tom (papaya salad), various Larb dishes, and their own version of Kai Yang (grilled chicken) Issan shares common ground with Lao cuisine, and in fact many of the Larb dishes are quite similar. Sticky rice is the staple starch for meals in Issan. The flavor profile would be sour-spicy-salty.
This last sentence perfectly describes the Spicy Raw Beef salad.
Look at that raw garlic! I took a bite with the beef and it was like nothing I've ever experienced. First, I was hit with an intense saltiness, which then was cut with some sour. By the fifth bite, I was sweating from the spicy. Sounds like a roller-coaster ride, right? It was. Kirk explained that the beef is cooked in the lime juice and the saltiness I taste was actually the spices melding with the peppers. WOW! I was learning so much from this guy-- he was a treasure trove of food knowledge. Rice powder coated each piece of beef, which added a little crunch.
Next, the Thai Sausage, which was ground pork, rice, with some curry paste sauce. I ate a lot of this, wrapped in cabbage, to break from all the salty-spicy-sweatyness of the beef salad. Ha.
Bamboo Shoot Salad.
Like the beef salad, this too was salty and spicy, and perhaps too similar in flavors with the beef salad. But the bamboo had a biting texture (hagotai, in Japanese- no direct translation, sorry) which was great.
This was all we ordered (you know I wanted to order more), but it was certainly plenty. Our mouths were on FIRE and Kirk and I were seriously sweating up a storm throughout the entire meal, which was joyously jam-packed with conversations of his travels throughout Asia and its cuisines. Kirk is seriously San Diego's Food Encyclopedia!
The menu is quite extensive and would definitely take more than a few visits to try everything.
The tiny restaurant started getting packed for lunch by noon, and everyone seemed to know one another-- it had a real community/neighborhood vibe. So random that it's in this hard-to-find strip mall!
Before we left, the staff treated us to some Thai iced tea. So perfect on such a warm sunny San Diego day. Thanks to the staff for a memorable lunch of sweat and spice, and to Kirk for taking the time to meet + eat with me! Next time I'm down in San Diego, we are sure to have an Umamiventure together. Until then, I will take suck as much knowledge as I can from his site!