Well, Indonesian food, as a matter of fact, is less known to the culinary lovers. It is unlike Japanese, Korean, even Thai food where you may see it in every corner of Los Angeles. But, this definitely not because it is less tastier or less delicious. Remember, long time ago during colonization, Europeans were looking for an archipelago where all the spices came from. The islands were in the East Indies which later became Indonesia. Indonesian foods are colorful in its taste because of the spices they used. But that also probably the reason why they are hardly found here: the ingredients are too difficult to find and too special.
However, if you want to taste Indonesian food, there are several Indonesian restaurants around LA. They are not as authentic as the real Indonesian food in its origin, but not bad either. These restaurants have interpreted the food to make it more sensible and fit with the western appetite. They also provide the food within the limit of the rarity of authentic ingredients.
Simpang Asia, I would say, is the best Indonesian restaurant so far. It is at the National Blvd, not too far from UCLA Campus. If my friend ask me a recommendation of Indonesian culinary, I will first recommend them Simpang Asia (means ‘The Intersection of Asia). At Simpang you can also find basic Indonesian spices and groceries.
If you live near UCLA Campus or around Westwood, there is another restaurant called Ramayani. This is the second in the list according to my taste judgement. While at Simpang you can just point to the menu and you will have a relatively good food, at Ramayani I would suggest you to avoid Gado-gado, which is one of the most famous Indonesian Street food. Simpang has much tastier Gado-Gado.
A new restaurant around Palms Blvd and Motor Ave, not far from Simpang Asia, called Mr. Sate opened last year. I never go there. But according to several friends who went there, Mr. Sate signature food is obviously sate. Sate is another special meet barbecue commonly found everywhere in Indonesia. It made of chicken, lamb or beef, mix with sweet soy bean sauces or peanut sauces. For sure you can also find other list of food on the menu.
What to choose? Well, if you want me to recommend you something, for the beginner I would suggest Gado-gado, Mpek-Mpek and Nasi Padang or Nasi Rames if you are going to go to Simpang. Choose Mpek-mpek is for the appetizer. It is a fried fish cake with a special hot sweet sauce made of ebi (dried shrimp). Originally from Palembang of South Sumatra, Mpek-Mpek is now a common street food in Indonesia. Simpang’s Mpek-mpek is delicious, even my kids love it so much. He picks only that menu if we go there. Make sure to ask the low level of spicy sauce if you do not like a spicy sauce. They quite hot!
Gado-Gado is the main menu, so the Nasi Padang and Nasi Rames. Gado-Gado is basically an Indonesian salad made of every vegetable available in the kitchen. It mixed with tempeh (fermented soy bean), tofu, and the cracker on the top of that. Simpang uses different set of vegetable simply because the original vegetables that are normally use in Gado-Gado are unavailable here. But the overall taste is still very good.
Nasi Padang’s speciality is because of the Rendang. CNN voted it in 2011 as the most delicious food in the world. But I would like to warn you that non of Indonesian restaurant here in LA provide an authentic Rendang. To make an authentic Rendang you need special ingredients like numeric leave, galangal and many others–even I do not know it. Also, to cook Rendang properly, it normally takes up to 8 hours! Yes, Rendang is a slowly cooked beef with special-magical ingredient and caramelized coconut milk, originally from the West Sumatra (Padang). Indonesian restaurant here, I suspect, use instant Rendang paste.
Other menu that you can try: Soto Ayam (Chicken Soto), Gulai Kambing (Lamb curry-like dish) and Sate. Also don’t forget the special famous Mi Goreng (fried noodle) and Nasi Goreng (fried rice) if they have it on their menu.
Now, grab your car and go. Enjoy it!