Cheap Thrills: Lacha Somtum

A visit to the Baskin-Robbins of papaya salad in Thai Town

If you have to eat salad for lunch, better make it a papaya salad.

Som tum, as it's known in Thailand, amps up slivers of unripe papaya with lime, chiles, fish sauce, palm sugar, peanuts and crushed garlic. It's a slaw with awesome crunch and massive flavor, hitting all the flavor notes: sour, salty, bitter, spicy and sweet. It's phenomenal with sticky rice too.

Lacha Somtum is Thai Town's bona fide papaya salad specialist. Owner Tanya Miyabi and her family hail from the Thailand-Laos border, the region where som tum is thought to have first originated.

Choose between twenty or so iterations at Lacha: Some are boosted with shards of deep-fried catfish, salted duck eggs or crunchy cubes of pork belly. Some don't use green papaya at all, substituting ripe mango, corn kernels, bamboo shoots or diced pineapple for their base. Each one comes lashed with fistfuls of seasoning, pounded and mixed in a tall wooden mortar until they thrum with flavor.

The combo salad's ($9) briny sting isn't for the faint of heart–bisected halves of raw blue crab, miniature salty black crabs, dried shrimp, crab paste and preserved anchovies turn the funky factor up to eleven. It's one of the most complex and heady versions we've encountered.

Another standout is the wildly vibrant Laotian dish called tum mua ($9), loosely translated by our waitress as "confused salad," which mingles fresh rice noodles called khanom jeen with a veritable garden's worth of Thai vegetables and herbs.

The kitchen also serves boba milk tea ($3) and pudding-topped slushies ($4), holdovers from the space's previous life as a cozy teahouse. Our recommendation: Keep these liquid fire extinguishers close at hand, particularly if you request your salad "Thai spicy."