Among Los Angeles‘ glitz, glamour and glitterati lies a lesser-known fact: With a thriving tally of 80,000 strong (counting immigrants and Thai Americans), the city has the largest Thai population outside of Asia and is sometimes considered the “77th province” of Thailand.
The designation is more than just a title, though. Los Angeles is home to the world’s first Thai Town, a neighborhood just east of Hollywood that openly shares its delectable cuisine and vibrant culture to any and all who seek it out. To see this hospitality for yourself, a good place to start is the inaugural Thai Food Festival.
On September 29, on the Paramount Pictures Studios backlot, chef Jet Tila, Thai Culinary Ambassador, Food Network veteran and the brains behind the Guinness World Record for largest stir-fry, will lead an ethnic journey through food tastings, discussions and cooking demos from culinary heavy-hitters such as Pok Pok’s Andy Ricker, the James Beard-nominated Kris Yenbamroong, celebrity chef Susan Feniger and more.
Bravo’s Top Chef Masters‘ host Curtis Stone will also be on hand to meet with fans and join radio personality and chef Evan Kleiman for the event’s culinary panel, which also features Ricker and Yenbamroong. In addition to the tastings, panels and demos, you will also find martial arts demonstrations, classical and folk dancing, umbrella painting and Thai fruit carving.
Of course, Stone is no stranger to the offerings of L.A.’s Thai Town. He name-dropped the Crying Tiger pork from local restaurant Jitlada on the Food Network’s show Best Thing I Ever Ate. If, like Stone, your taste buds are piqued to nibble through offerings from Thailand’s four geographical regions long after the festival ends, you can savor Southeast Asian cuisine anytime around Los Angeles from many of the fest’s participating restaurants and chefs. Here are a few spots not to miss.
Widely regarded as the best restaurant in L.A. for traditional Thai food, Jitlada amasses fans that range from Pulitzer Prize-winning food writer Jonathan Gold, to a fleet of celebrity regulars such as Ryan Gosling. Despite Jitlada’s status, you won’t find it in a 90210 zip code. The unassuming eatery occupies a storefront in a Thai Town strip mall — you’ll find it from the line of people waiting for a table. When you score a seat, skip familiar fare like pad Thai and papaya salads and head straight for the menu of Southern Thai specialties, such as green curry mussels and the Stone-approved Crying Tiger pork (fiery chili-seasoned grilled meat).
Susan Feniger trotted the globe to find the world’s best street food to feature on the menu at her aptly named eatery. The cozy indoor-outdoor spot in Hollywood offers a market-driven menu of specialties that range from its signature kaya toast (bread slathered with coconut jam) to daily rickshaw noodle bowl specials and barbecued jackfruit bao (steamed, stuffed buns). Accompany these essentials with crafted cocktails, such as the lemongrass martini, which is a delightful mix of gin, lemongrass, kefir and lime leaf.
Led by an obsession to share the perfect bowl of dan dan noodles with the masses, chef Sang Yoon puts a modern spin on Southeast Asian fare in this sleek Culver City restaurant. In addition to the noodles, other menu musts are Hawaiian butterfish, spicy chicken pops, tea leaf salad and steamed cod in a spicy citrus broth. If you see Yoon and executive chef Ted Hopson in the kitchen, they may look familiar; both competed admirably on this season’s edition of Bravo’s Top Chef Masters.
To access Kris Yenbamroong’s speakeasy-esque dining destination on the Sunset Strip, you must enter through his family’s more traditional Thai restaurant, Talesai, and pass through a curtain next to the bar. Once a menu’s in hand, you’ll see adventurous cuisine from the two-time James Beard Award nominee that spans from fried pig tails and pork toro (grilled fatty hog collar) served with a Northeastern Thai chile dip, to catfish tamales and a “dry” pork stew with fatty belly and shoulder cuts slowly simmered with palm sugar, fermented bamboo shoots, pickled garlic and ginger, and tossed with glass noodles.
Photos Courtesy of BKK2LAX