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Pagoda A Go-Go
Thai Noodle Express has been a fixture in Chinatown for decades. Alternatively, the fixtures inside Thai Noodle Express have been there for decades. Most likely four, by best estimates. Current owner Molly Vang- yes, she’s Hmong- has owned the restaurant for about seven months, and isn’t sure when it originally opened.
Molly and her Laotian chef turn out high-quality, delicious Thai food for a loyal lunch crowd that comes for the weekday all-you-can-eat buffet. For $7.95, you can load up multiple plates of Pad Thai, seasoned broccoli and onions, fried rice, pad kao paod (spicy basil chicken), spicy vegetable tofu, Bangkok salad, spicy crispy fish, Thai toast, coconut gelatin, and more.
"I think it’s fun," said a giggling Molly when asked why she sold her small grocery store and entered the restaurant business. Although she is Hmong, Molly lived in Thailand, in a refugee camp, before moving to the U.S. in 1990. She purchased the classic restaurant, already named Thai Noodle Express, and decided not to change the cuisine because "I have my cook. She learned in Thailand."
Molly and her chef get most of their ingredients from Thailand, via wholesalers in LA, San Francisco, and Hollywood. The Pad Thai is a standout dish with subtle egg flavor and not too much oil. The Thai toast is another favorite. Molly mixes chicken, eggs, carrots, and a hint of sweet and sour sauce together and places a dollop on pita-like toast wedges. The result is a crispy, savory snack with rich flavor. Although there are no Hmong or Laotian dishes on the menu, customers in the know feel free to ask for Laotian specialities like hot papaya salad and steamed fish in banana leaf or Hmong green mustard soup and snow pea stir fry.
Lunch is your best bet for the Noodle Express; the restaurant closes at 8:00 pm, but sometimes earlier if it’s not busy. Sadly, it may not be under Molly‘s friendly management too much longer. "We try to cook the best, but in this area there are not too many people", she laments.
Forever laughing sweetly, Molly says the developers who plan to remodel Chinatown never spoke with her. "I wish they could come talk to me- make this side of town alive. This side of town is dead." This lack of traffic is causing her to consider selling. "Maybe I’ll go back to school. Get my GED," she offers, with an infectious giggle.
Thai Noodle Express is located at 943 "E" St. in Chinatown. The lunch buffet is available Monday - Friday from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm. Phone: 266-5329.