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Red Medicine restaurant in Los Angeles

Los Angeles
| 8400 Wilshire Blvd., 323-651-5500;
Tweezer-plated dishes like sweetbreads with turmeric jam might elicit sneers from the cheap-eats contingent, and Jordan Kahn, an alum of Grant Achatz's Alinea and Thomas Keller's French Laundry, is the first to concede that his food isn't like anything you'd find in Vietnam. Eating here is like seeing the country's cuisine through a kaleidoscope. Kahn's richly colored plates harness the flavor power of Vietnamese culinary philosophies—lamb glazed with tamarind plus the pursing touch of preserved plum, and wild spot prawns perfumed with lemongrass and cooked on scalding river stones.
CHEF'S TIP: Kahn can't get enough of Thai noodle joint Hoy-Ka (5401 Hollywood Blvd., 323-463-1339) and its crispy pork sautéed with chili and holy basil and served with fried eggs—good at any time of day.

Los Angeles
| 3239 Helms Ave., 310-202-6808;
Sang Yoon first entranced Angelenos with burgers, introducing a behemoth made with dry-aged beef and banishing customizability (and even ketchup) at Father's Office. Now he's raised the bar on Southeast Asian food at this sleek Culver City spot, which won an American Institute of Architects design award in 2011. He masterfully modernizes rendang, turning the dense Malaysian stew into sous-vide meat drizzled with an aromatic coconut sauce, and elevates dan dan noodles with top-notch pork and perfectly calibrated prickle from Sichuan peppercorns.
CHEF'S TIP: In the San Gabriel Valley, the nexus of L.A.'s Chinese-food scene, Yoon covets the Chon Quing chicken at 168 Garden (1530 S. San Gabriel Blvd., 626-280-7688), laden with so many dried red chilies that it looks inedible. The trick? The numbing sensation from the peppercorns balances the heat of the chilies, which puts it right on the border between unbearable and perfect.

Washington, D.C.
| 1511 17th St., NE;
You'd think the follow-up from Johnny Monis, who made his name turning out modern Greek food at the D.C. trailblazer Komi, would also be Mediterranean-flavored. But those who get in line for one of the 28 stools (in a former Dunkin Donuts) feast on the fiery, funky food of Isaan, the northeast region of Thailand. Although the menu changes weekly, expect dishes like pungent piles of minced catfish with fresh herbs and dried chili, kaffir-lime-laced sausage, and house-made noodles topped with featherlight fish cakes.
CHEF'S TIP: Monis swears by the Maryland branches of H Mart (locations in 13 states), an Asian supermarket with a produce section that includes pea eggplants, acacia fronds, betel leaves, and other offerings rarely seen outside Thailand.

| 127 Columbia St., 718-923-9322;
Andy Ricker (pictured, right), who expanded his Pok Pok empire to five locations with this April opening (three others are in Portland, Oregon; a fourth is on New York's Lower East Side), has spent two decades learning to re-create obscure, otherworldly Thai dishes. What you'll eat at his newest spot, a starkly designed 60-seater in the Columbia Street Waterfront District, isn't "inspired by" fare. Instead, he meticulously reproduces dishes like laap meuang (blood-spiked minced pork), khao soi (noodles in curry made with house-pressed coconut milk), and lemongrass-stuffed rotisserie chickens.
CHEF'S TIP: Ricker often starts his day at Portland's Hà & VL (2738 SE 82nd Ave., 503-772-0103) with a bowl from the roster of Vietnamese noodle soups that sell out a few hours after the 8 a.m. opening. Highlights: Hue-style broth, with chilies and shrimp paste, and Hanoi-style, with pork meatballs.

San Francisco
| 2234 Mission St. (inside Lung Shan), 415-863-2800;
Countless big-name chefs have sat in the dingy dining room of Danny Bowien's newfangled Chinese restaurant, formerly the home of an ancient lo mein joint, to sample his egregiously underpriced fusion fare like kung pao pastrami and wildly creative riffs on staples from various provinces, such as Sichuan(ish) ma po tofu and addictively salty, cuminy Hunan(ish) lamb belly. Plus, the place delivers to just about anywhere in the city—impressively humble for a restaurant voted No. 2 in America by Bon Appetit magazine last year. The much-hyped new NYC location is a thrill, but it can't match the magic of the original.
CHEF'S TIP: It may not look like much, but Ino Sushi (22 Peace Plaza, Suite 510, 415-922-3121) serves Bowien's favorite sushi in San Francisco.

New York City
| 346 W. 52nd St., 212-586-2880;
Hooni Kim's decision to open a hip outpost in midtown Manhattan, the perennial realm of lunch dives, theme restaurants, and expense-account-only fine dining, looked like a risky move. But the former cook at Daniel and sushi institution Masa has won over the country's most demanding foodies, serving Korean food both playful and sophisticated in a slim, elegant space that looks like it belongs 40 blocks south. Bulgogi comes in slider form topped with kimchi-style cucumber, and the poached sablefish is a masterstroke—silky flesh in a puddle of deep-red chili-based broth.
CHEF'S TIP: When Kim, a native New Yorker, wants Korean culinary immersion, he heads for Flushing, Queens, for tableside pork-belly barbecue at Han Joo Chik Naeng Myun & BBQ (41-06 149 Place, 718-359-6888), charcoal-grilled short ribs (kalbi) at Mapo BBQ (149-24 41st Ave., 718-886-8292), and peasant food at Hahm Ji Bach (41-08 149th Place, 718-460-9289).

| 1555 Blake St., 303-353-5223;
Lon Symensma labored for lemongrass-loving pioneers like Jean-Georges Vongerichten, ran the kitchen at New York's Buddakan, then decamped to dumpling-deprived Denver, which finally has a mecca for meticulously made, carefully sourced fare that builds on Southeast Asian flavors—moules frites with yellow curry, pho broth made from oxtail and veal bones—using a mixture of French and Chinese techniques.
CHEF'S TIP: Symensma visits Vegas' Lotus of Siam (953 E. Sahara Ave., 702-735-3033), often called the best Thai restaurant in the country, for the khao soi—curried noodles.

| 403 N. 36th St., 206-547-2040;
The recent deification of Korean flavors can probably be traced to the deservedly praised but lavishly overexposed David Chang, who rapidly built a downtown New York City empire. On the opposite coast, the husband-and-wife team Seif Chirchi and Rachel Yang (who met while cooking for Alain Ducasse) have been working their magic under the radar, absolutely killing the sure things, like short-rib-filled dumplings and crispy-edged Korean-style pancakes with kimchi and pork belly, while concocting new classics like noodles fashioned from seaweed and tossed with crab and red curry.
CHEF'S TIP: Chirchi and Yang join fellow chefs at the International District's Sea Garden (509 7th Ave. S., 206-623-2100), where they always order the salt-and-pepper squid.

| 851 N. Ashland Ave., 312-624-8509;
Asian doesn't dominate the menu at Korean-American Edward Kim's stunning West Town restaurant, outfitted with church pews, seat belts, and a ceiling decorated with old cookbook pages. But what there is will have you coming back, waiting for one of the 30 or so unreservable seats and for dishes like popcorn flecked with seaweed, a tangle of bucatini and clams with white wine and hauntingly sweet Chinese sausage, and sablefish with barley, pickles, and black-tea broth.
CHEF'S TIP: Kim goes to Han Bat (2723 W. Lawrence Ave., 773-271-8640) for sul lung tang, a restorative broth that squeezes every last bit of flavor from simmered beef bones.

San Francisco
| 22 Hawthorne St., 415-685-4860;
When Thomas Keller's top lieutenant at the French Laundry stepped down after nearly a decade to open his own place, expectations were sky-high. Corey Lee topped them, crafting a new cuisine that melds intense French technique and Eastern ingredients, producing some unlikely fusions that have been wowing Asian-food nerds—foie gras with eel, pork belly with kimchi crème fraîche, and a faux shark-fin soup with truffle custard.
CHEF'S TIP: Lee keeps going back to the iconic Chinese eatery San Tung (1031 Irving St., 415-242-0828), tangling with house-made noodles doused in salty-funky black-bean sauce and sticky dry-fried chicken wings.