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Successful Secret

Chinese-Thai restaurant maintains a loyal following even though it does not advertise.


Picture this: You run a restaurant but you don't advertise. You don't even list your number in every phone book you can find.

Now answer this question: How long will you survive?

If you answer, "Not long," don't tell Tim and Annie Tawinganone, who run Friend Restaurant near the Van Nuys airport--one of the San Fernando Valley's best-kept secrets.

The Tawinganones founded Friend Restaurant 16 years ago, and they don't advertise in your favorite family newspaper or anywhere else. They list their phone number in only one book serving the eastern end of the Valley.

And none of that matters. The Tawinganones do a good business with loyal customers in the neighborhood--for example, the suits who fly in and out of the Van Nuys airport on those fancy corporate jets, and the blue-collar bus drivers who schlep kids to and from the public schools in the area. At Friend Restaurant, you rub elbows even with people who work in some of the other small restaurants nearby.

How do the Tawinganones do it?

Friend Restaurant is clean and inexpensive, and Tim and Annie Tawinganone serve good food. They are ethnic Chinese from Bangkok, Thailand, and as you might expect, their menu offers up number of Thai dishes that look Chinese, and vice versa.

The idea, of course, is to please folks who can't decide whether to go out for Chinese or for Thai food--by satisfying both appetites.

"We are Chinese-born and raised in Bangkok," the hospitable Tim Tawinganone says, "so our food is a combination."

Expect vinegar, chile and peanuts in the wonton soup, or fried bean curd with a sweet and sour peanut sauce.

"We have so many things on the menu that combine Chinese and Thai cooking--the beef panang in coconut milk and curry, the mint beef with chile and garlic, the chicken wings stuffed with ground pork and bean threads," he says.

"And you should try the chicken larb salad--ground chicken, ginger, peanuts and lime. That's really good."

The regulars at this restaurant swear by the pad woon sen (pan-fried noodles with egg, pork, bean gravy and green onions) and the pad Thai (pan-fried noodles with pork, shrimp, bean sprouts, egg and ground peanuts).

They also swear by the prices. The beef and pork dishes all go for $4.95; ditto the chicken dishes, with the exception of the barbecued chicken, which sets you back $5.25 for half a chicken and $7.95 for a whole.

The shrimp dishes--garlic shrimp, sweet and sour shrimp, mint shrimp with chile and garlic, pan-fried shrimp with green beans and a homemade red curry paste--go for $5.95.

Meanwhile, most of the dinner specials--for example, ginger chicken and sateh beef with cucumber in a peanut sauce, among others--cost only $6.95.

What's not to like?

Friend restaurant serves lunch and dinner every day except Sunday. It is at 7139 Balboa Blvd., on the corner of Sherman Way in Van Nuys, (818) 787-5440.


The Bistro Garden at Coldwater offers a special Octoberfest menu of traditional German foods the last week of the month, Oct. 25 through Nov. 1.

Among the German dishes: chicken fricassee with potato dumplings, pig's knuckle with Bavarian cabbage, Wiener schnitzel with sauteed potatoes and bratwurst.

Chefs de cuisine Harry Klingbat, from Germany, and Karl Rohner, who is Swiss, have also revamped their regular menu to reflect the change in the seasons.

Among the new dishes: a Parmesan risotto with blackened salmon, broiled gulf prawns with a mustard sauce, a duck confit cassoulet, and Sonoma rabbit with a mustard grain sauce.

The Bistro Garden is at 12950 Ventura Blvd., near Coldwater in Studio City, (818) 501-0202.

* Juan Hovey writes about the restaurant scene in the San Fernando Valley and outlying points. He may be reached at (805) 492-7909 or fax (805) 492-5139 or via e-mail at

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