"Lakewood Village" is the type of quaint, planned downtown area that was originally built for the soccer moms and AARP members living in suburban Long Beach, but its orthopedic-shoe store and secondhand-book shop have become surrounded over the years by amenities for the rest of us. More specifically, coffee shops and restaurants are available to satiate the hungry and caffeine-seeking students who often drift over from Long Beach City College, which sits a short distance down Carson.
The Thai restaurant Panvimarn has the most visible location in this development, a corner unit facing two main streets that shines with the massive gilded chofah monument that bears down on the entrance. Nevertheless, I had never ventured inside until a friend last year suggested it as an easy meeting spot for him to grab an after-class bite.
Purposefully placed textures of stone, metal, glass, water and wood bounce off the restaurant's cavernous two-story interior to create a serene, spa-like atmosphere that I'm sure is the masterwork of some feng shui genius. Trickling waterfall fountains and Buddha statues calm the financial realization that this ain't no Thai dive; for lunch, it's hard to get out for less than $10.
But that's okay because the best-deal-in-the-house "café lunch" combos (served from 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., ranging from $8.50 to $9.95) are hearty plates of adventurous food, from salmon teriyaki and pineapple fried rice to Thai spaghetti with green curry, each served with a side of rice and a salad. Classic Thai dishes such as pad Thai and pad see ew are notably absent from the lunch offerings, forcing those accustomed to ordering cheap, gabacho-friendly Thai delivery to explore the rest of the country's cuisine.
One of Panvimarn's specialties is Thai barbecue, and the chicken-and-ribs combo is an easy place to start. Hunks of red-skinned chicken and beef--the ribs and drumstick still on the bone--are glazed with a teriyaki garlic sauce. On the side are a sweet-and-sour plum sauce with the consistency of maple syrup and a thinner, chile-filled fish oil, both great for dipping in or pouring over the grilled grub.
Though advertised as "tender" and "succulent," I have never found Panvimarn's lunchtime ribs to be either. Instead, it's the chicken that falls off the bone and melts on the tongue, leaving the ribs to be drenched in sauces so it tenderizes the flavorful meat enough to chew comfortably. Just don't let the ribs go cold--unless you like beef jerky, that is.
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Another café lunch option is one cryptically called "Hot Stuff," which after thoughts of backrooms and happy endings actually turns out to be a yummy garlic chili sauce that drenches veggies and the diner's choice of meat. The prik-king spicy green beans are also worth eating, but even with protein added, the vegetable-filled mound feels like a side dish.
As cool as it is to have a self-containing meal on a plate, go family style for bigger groups. It's how I originally came to love some of the restaurant's more unconventional dishes (such as the kao aob pol-la-mai--a wok-fried rice loaded with raisins, dried cranberries and dried apricots that feels more Indian than Thai), and it ends up much cheaper in the end.
Panvimarn, 4101 Bellflower Blvd., Ste. C, Long Beach, (562) 425-6201.