Best Thai Restaurant in U.S.
- Tom Armitage
Lots of Los Angeles restaurant reviewers have lavished
praise on Renu Nakorn, a Thai restaurant located in
Norwalk, as did a recent piece in the N.Y. Times.
Three Chowhound posts have briefly mentioned Renu
Nakorn, most notably one by Jonathan Gold last
January that called it "hands down the best Thai
restaurant in the U.S." My wife and I work in an
area of Hollywood that has an enormous concentration of
outstanding Thai restaurants. But, as wonderful as are
many of these places, Renu Nakorn is in a class by
itself. Although its menu offers the standard Thai
dishes, what makes Renu Nakorn so special is its wide
selection of Northern Thai and Issan cuisine. The
quality of the food, and the range of flavors and
textures, is simply amazing. The flavors range from a
Burmese-influenced northern Thai pork stew (Kang
Hung-lay) in which the dominant note is sweet, but with
subordinate notes to balance the sweetness and add
complexity, to a fiery green chili dip
(Nam-phrik-noom), eaten with fried pork skin, lettuce,
cucumbers, and sticky rice. Textures range from the
lusciousness of the marinated raw shrimp served with a
stunningly delicious hot fish sauce to the chewy,
salty, and deeply flavored fried salted beef or "jerky"
(Nue Dad Deaw). I haven't yet exhausted the menu at
Renu Nakorn, although given the frequency with which my
wife and I are eating there these days (i.e., LOTS), it
won't take too much longer. Added to all of this is
the friendliness of the owners, Saipin and Bill
Chutima, and their staff. Saipin runs the kitchen, for
which she should be given sainthood. Bill is a
friendly and generous educator and guide to the food.
There have been previous discussions on Chowhound of
the difficulty of gaining access to unusual
"non-Americanized" dishes at ethnic restaurants. No
such problem at Renu Nakorn. Just ask for Bill, and
either he or his staff will be happy to answer your
questions and help you learn about their food. He will
explain the difference between the generally milder
Northern Thai dishes, pointing out their Burmese and
Southern Chinese influences, and the generally hotter
Issan dishes. He will explain how the texture of the
Northern Thai and Issan dishes is suited to eating them
with sticky rice. On each return visit, I come away
knowing a little more about the cuisine than I did
before. What a treat!
My advice: If you are a Chowhound living in or visiting
the Los Angeles area, don't miss Renu Nakorn.
As long as I have been going to Renu Nakorn, which is to say ten years or so, I was so busy eating the Isaan food that I somehow managed to miss the fact that the restaurant even served Northern dishes at all. (Although the last time I was there, come to think of it, the owner did boast that he made the best kha soi--the signature Northern Thai noodle soup--in the universe.) I wonder if I'll ever be able to pull myself away from the duck larb, the grilled beef layered with raw garlic and sliced chiles, the crunchy rice salad studded with raw-pork sausage, the beef jerky or the catfish long enough to find out.
re: jonathan gold
I can sure appreciate your dilemma, Jonathan. I always
struggle between returning to the spectacular dishes
that I have previously enjoyed at Renu Nakorn, or
exploring new ones. But it's a no risk proposition.
I've never had anything there that I was sorry I
ordered. As I mentioned, Bill Chutima has been a
wonderful guide into the world of Northern Thai
cuisine. So, my return visits always include some
dishes that I haven't had before. Renu Nakorn is a
Chowhound's dream come true.