And before you leave, you’ll likely want to stop by LAX-C BBQ Express, a small indoor food stall with a huge variety of prepared Thai dishes in steam trays. It may not be the hot dogs at Costco, but can be delicious and almost as cheap. Or, if you’re feeling more adventurous, you could pick out a live fish from the numerous tanks nearby and they’ll filet it and even cook it up for you. "All Asian markets will have a kitchen where they'll clean, gut and fry up fish for you,” Pham explains. “It's the easiest way to cook a fish other than steaming, you just get the whole thing in one shot. And you don't even have to filet it, you just pick the meat off.”
As we head over to Ai Hoa Market on Hill St, Pham opens up about the different perceptions that diners can have between Asian and Western restaurants, which he’s observed throughout his years of cooking. "I went through certain experiences to understand what I wanted to do,” he explains of his decision to return to more Southeast Asian-style cooking from more Euro-centric type eateries. “But there's still a bias now, that may always be there. For example, with Simbal, some people don't want to pay certain prices just because we're under the umbrella of Southeast Asian food. Our crudo dish is $13, but if I had an Italian restaurant serving the exact same thing, I can charge $16 or $18 and people won't bat an eye. It’s the same product. That's how those restaurants make a lot of money, too, there's a lot of built in perceptions."