Long Beach Lunch: Aki Sushi Bar and Bai Plu Thai Restaurant
Once upon a time there was a Japanese businessman and a Thai chef who decided to blend their heritage cuisines into a fusion restaurant built for Asian-food-loving indecesives.
Instead of combining elements of Japanese and Thai food into a new menu of fusion dishes, however, the pair's Long Beach eateries function more like a split-screen union between two separate and perfectly executed concepts: Aki Sushi Bar and Bai Plu Thai restaurant.
The two locations of Bai Plu Thai and Sushi (or Aki Sushi Bar and Bai Plu Thai, depending on who you ask)--one on 7th St. and another on Bellflower Blvd.--offer the same extensive Thai and Japanese menus along with lightening-fast dine-in service and delivery for miles around.
Though everything from the curries to the hand rolls are essentially the same at each spot, I prefer the original one on 7th St. because its setup and layout emphasizes its casual sushi bar, while the one on Bellflower feels more like an upscale Thai restaurant, replete with low-slung soft lighting and potted bamboo. Plus, the 7th St location is also one of the rare businesses on the strip with its own parking lot, making jaunts in and out a breeze.
Brian Addison Panang curry lunch special
No matter which one you go to, lunchtime is always the best deal, with both bento box and Thai combo specials that don't cost more than $10.
During dinner, a la carte Bai Plu dishes like prig khing and pad see ew start at $9.99 per plate, but until 3 p.m. on weekdays, all the commonly ordered items (think: spicy kung pao chicken and creamy panang curry) are thrown into a pool of choices for the $7.99 lunch combo, which comes with either a Thai lemongrass-and-mushroom soup or salad and an egg roll.
On the Japanese side of the lunch menu are two kinds of soup-and-salad-inclusive bento boxes, one of which features a side of vegetables battered in Aki Sushi Bar's sweet tempura and another that comes with your choice of simple sushi rolls. Mix and match what meat or gyoza goes into the other side of the box ("choose one item from column A and one from column B," the instructions say) and voila--a mid-day meal that explores the wide range of Japanese flavors for only $10.
Bai Plu Thai and Sushi doesn't just nail the typical Western-friendly Thai and Japanese dishes, though. Stray from the lunch selections and a whole world (seriously, the to-go menu is a stapled booklet) of uncommon goodies awaits.
Sarah Bennett Bento box lunch special
On a page titled "Wild Things," Bai Plu showcases pictures of its fall-off-the-bone pork leg stew, Southeast Asian-style beef jerky and a plate of beef slices and spicy lime sauce simply called "Crying Tiger." On the Aki side, there are chirashi bowls, tuna tataki sashimi, crispy salmon skin salads and sushi rolls filled with curious ingredients like lobster and octopus.
Most locals have probably only encountered the magic of Bai Plu and Aki's cultural combination through its expansive and speedy delivery service, but that's missing half the experience.
With both locations a half-half combination of a Thai restaurant and sushi bar, Bai Plu Thai and Sushi is worth the lunchtime dine in, not despite its bi-polar personality but exactly because of it.
Aki Sushi Bar and Bai Plu Thai, 1626 E. 7th St., Long Beach, (562) 436-3123 and 2119 N. Bellflower Blvd, Long Beach, (562) 343-2651, akisushidelivery.com