Jonathan Gold scores tofu balls, tokens and craft beer at Button Mash

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Theodore Fowlkes, 2, helps his dad Gabriel get tokens from the machines. Photo by Stan Lee

There’s no shortage of restaurants in our fair city offering up great Vietnamese food and frosty pints of beer. Button Mash in Echo Park is upping the ante with an arcade of old school video games. (Sorry dear listeners, no producing “Good Food” this week. We are all tipsy on the east side from tofu balls and beer, mashing buttons and chasing ice cream and cherries with Charley Chuck and Ms. Pac-Man.)

We have the owners of Button Mash — Jordan Weiss and Gabriel Fowlkes — to thank for this little trip down memory lane. Chefs Nguyen and Thi Tran are responsible for the menu. (Maybe you’ve sampled their food at Starry Kitchen in its various iterations around town.) In between games of Galaga, Frogger and Space Invaders at Button Mash, Jonathan Gold recommends an order of the popiah. We recruited an expert staffer with fabulous sparkly fingernails to show us how the assembly is done.

Jonathan also recommends an order of the tofu balls — vegan! green! deep fried! — that get their vivid color from naturally green Vietnamese sweet rice, a.k.a. com dip banh.

Button Mash - Crispy Tofu Balls
Better try this Nguyen-Thi Tran specialty: the crispy vegan tofu balls. (Photo by Stan Lee)

There are three kinds of chicken wings on the Button Mash menu. We like the twice-fried tamarind wings, which get their kick from a healthy dose of chili garlic paste, black pepper, ginger, and, of course, tamarind paste. The pomegranate seeds add a nice touch. The Trans have shared their recipe so you can try your hand at making these wings at home.

Button Mash - Double-Fried Tamarind Chicken Wings
The double-fried tamarind chicken wings are very pretty on the plate. (Photo by Stan Lee)

Bowls of Bun Cha Ha Noi made the headlines when President Obama and Anthony Bourdain supped on them together in May in Vietnam. In Echo Park, you can eat the salty ground pork patties and slices of pork belly with rice noodles or wrapped up in a curl of lettuce with mint. Or just sip the broth solo to taste the fish sauce, lemongrass and caramel that are in there somewhere.

Buttom Mash - Bun Cha Hanoi
The Button Mash version of Bun Cha Ha Noi. (Photo by Stan Lee)

Recommendations: Starry Kitchen’s signature crispy tofu balls, the double-fried tamarind chicken wings, the popiah, the Bun Cha Ha Noi and the almond tofu with fresh fruit. Read Jonathan’s Button Mash review on the LA Times website.

Location: 943 North Broadway, Los Angeles, CA 90012 | (213) 814-1123

All photos by Stan Lee, FCS 2016 James Beard Foundation visual storytelling award winner