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Wat Thai - Review

The Menu:
- Sausage on a stick
- Papaya salad
- A fish thing in a banana leaf
- Mint chicken
- Chicken and peanut dumplings in tapioca wrapper
- Mango with sticky rice
- Durian with sticky rice
- Those coconut half-moon things.

I was super excited to go to Wat Thai after reading all the links a fellow Chowie had emailed me. So three of us got together and headed out with a fairly high degree of anticipation.

So when we changed 40 bucks and came across a single row of stalls, I have to say we were slightly under in the whelmed department. I was picturing something much bigger, but we still bought as much food as we could carry before sitting down.

After taking a few bites of everything, none of us wanted to be the first to say that we were disappointed. It's not that the food was bad exactly, it just didn't seem to match the levels of hype that I've seen.

The food, except for the fish thing (anyone know the name for that?) and perhaps the sausage on a stick, was lacking a certain subtlety I expect from Thai food, the sort of curious co-mingling of flavors that made it a staple for me growing up.

A far more preferable use of durian than ingesting it would be to drop it a great height on on enemy or three. I understand many people like it; I could never be friends with any of them.

The mango was under ripe but sweet; what held the most promise were the coconut half-moon things. I wasn't an enormous fan of the flavor, but the consistency of the crunchy exterior with the inside was a revelation; I think something really interesting could be done with the fryer the woman was using to make these.

I'm willing to give it another shot, if anyone's willing to give me a list of what dishes make this place so worthy of adoration.

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  1. I have to admit that I wouldn't describe Thai food as subtle, so I'm not sure of your previous experience.

    Papaya salad from the place with the ridiculous line... wow. Pumpkin with coconut pudding from the dessert place on the east end.

    I've never had my kanom krok (the coconut half moon thing) be crunchy on the outside. Chewy, yes, with a pudding-like centre. I get them without the onions -- somehow onions ruin it for me.

    It isn't mango season, hence the weird quality of the mangos.

    Your thing in the banana leaf was sour curry.

    I wrote a lengthy disquisition on the Wat Thai within the last two weeks or so -- you can find it. Half of it is the experience -- where else do you get to eat like in Thailand, with random vendors dishing up only a few specialities? What would make it even more authentic would be to have it run at night, but that doesn't make sense in this context.

    1. I'm thai, but I don't go to wat thai to eat all that much. I just stop in on weekend mornings to pick up a few things (usually a few dessert things). The grilled pork and chicken sticks aren't very good these days because they fry them (they can't grill them fast enough these days with all the visitors). The rice dishes etc are not that great. There are exceptions, of course, like the som tum (papaya salad), the rice porridge (usually only served every other weekend) and the dessert stands.

      But if I want actual thai dishes, I will just go to a restaurant (which restaurant depends on the dish). but yes, the experience is very unique and the menu quite varied despite what one may think of the quality of the food.

      2 Replies
      1. re: jackt

        do you recommend any places on the west side, jackt?

        1. re: epop

          can't say i know of any good thai restaurants on the west side. your best bets are thaitown (hollywood blvd near western) and the row of thai restaurants in north hollywood on sherman way.

      2. Hello... Firstly, sorry to hear that you were underwhelmed. Remember, these stalls aren't (to my knowledge) hosted by professional restauranteurs looking to sway you toward their flagship restaurants the way, say, 'Taste of ***' events try to do. Hence, no admission charge). These are members of the extended thai community contributing their time and efforts on behalf of supporting the temple and the monks. Regular neighbors preparing homemade street food... What I personally find so rave-worthy is the pricing. A good 2+ ounces of garlicky sausage for $1. A pile of fiery papaya salad with brined crab for $3. A couple dozen kanom krok for the same price. Jeez, for a dollar or three, you get to sample many different types of street food (and here's the special part, if one has an ounce of spirituality in one's constitution) with *soul* and *good will*. Food (to me) tastes BETTER when it's prepared (and thus, imbued) with good will. Ever have a hotdog or taco or burger prepared by an angry grill cook? Ever have the same, prepared by a cook whose motivations are above the fray of money-making and profit alone? There's a difference, if one looks for it. I'll gladly return again and again to the Wat Thai experience, because the community there cooks with *soul* and reverance for the spiritual community it is supporting, one dollar at a time. If my grandmothers were alive, I'd take them there, because that's how they ran their kitchens. Food, in service to more than just bodily hunger...

        1. I've always enjoyed some the satays/moo ping.
          A few sticks, some khao neow, and I'm good!
          I really hope they haven't gone to frying them.

          I've had some decent larb from there.

          If we drove up for the food, it might be a disappointment.
          But for us, the food's just an added benefit.

          1. My friends and I are driving up to LA from OC this saturday just for the wat thai temple. None of us is thai so we don't know what to expect.

            First of all, is it open on saturday? Where exactly is it located and what are the must-do's and must-eats when we get there?

            We also plan to take in a thai massage.

            3 Replies
            1. re: ml22

              The temple is open most times for religious reasons; the food booths (on the north side) are open 11 AM to 3 PM on Saturday and Sunday.

              It is located at 8225 Coldwater Canyon Avenue, North Hollywood 91605, at Cantara Street, one block south of Roscoe Boulevard. The nearest freeway exit is the Roscoe (West) exit from the 170.

              1. re: ml22

                Definitely try the Papaya Salad. Watch out, becuase it can be very spicy!

                1. re: maybelle

                  When they say its spicy....its spicy! Don't be embarassed or shy to ask for it "not spicy". Was sitting next to a Thai family and they returned their salad because it was too spicy for them. What ends up happening is they toss all the salads in the same bowl and even though you may say not spicy, the remnants of heat left in the bowl from the salad they prepared before are still there.

              2. You may have hit the temple at the wrong time, on the wrong day, with perhaps a bit to high an expectation. The merchants and cooks rotate in and out (with the exception of the kanom krok lady, I think) and while, most days, everyone seems to be having a good time, some times some folks seem to be just goign thorugh the motions.

                BUT on the other hand, you probably fed four people for FORTY BUCKS. WITH LEFTOVERS! When the Wat's hopping, the energy is wonderful (if you haven't been there during Songkran, that's a WHOLE different level of experience...)

                Durian: consensus is you either love it, or you hate it. You may know some secret durian-eaters; now they'll never tell you. Don't know if you saw the un-peeled whole ones, which look like they could do serious damage, or if you're advocating weaponization purely on smell. . .

                I'd try the noodles again; depending on how many people go with you, and what they'll eat, I like getting a serving of the same thing from each of two or three stands and comparing 'em. Love the duck noodles; the pad thai is often good. I think the skewered things have gone down-hill somewhat in the last couple of years, but can still be pretty good. I personally would like a more coffee-ish, less tooth-achingly sweet ice coffee, but if the success of a certain chain of "coffee-drink" places in pushing drinks with lots of sugar in them is an indication, I'm sewimming against the tide on this issue...


                1. I still can't figure out how a nonprofit food court run for the benefit for the parishoners of a Buddhist temple can possibly fall under the category of ``hype.'' It is run as a service to the local Thai community, and as a non-Thai, I feel lucky to be able to participate at all.

                  As to the food, there is a cleanliness to the flavors, a purity that you find in few of the Thai restaurants here. Nobody at the temple is using a bottled sauce base; nobody is covering the insipidness of hastily made sauces with glugs of coconut milk. The papaya salad with pickled crab, the mango with sticky rice and the basil-leaf chicken, among other dishes, are the best versions available within L.A. city limits (although I too have been wondering about the practice of reheating grilled meats and sour sausages in the deep-fryer). And a completely delicious lunch costs less than a drive-thru monstrosity from the McDonald's abbatoir.

                  1. My additional 2 cents worth, on an not-entirely-about-the-food issue: as a (very occidental, non-Thai) Buddhist, I have mixed feelings about what can now be fairly described as "hype" about the Wat Thai. I'm glad to see Buddhism get some added visibility, and I deeply enjoy my trips to North Hollywood, most of the time, for a multitude of reasons, including dragging various of the Chow-Pup's buddies there with him.

                    BUT some folks posting to this list have expressed a GREAT deal of, um, enthusiasm for the food there, and I think, as a result, some other folks are showing up with both very high expectations for wonderful food, AND not much info as to the nature of what is, really, someone else's community event they're actually showing up for.

                    That enthusiasm, mostly well-meaning BTW, has recently gotten carried over into pieces in outlets like the Auto Club magazine ("Westways", I think) Sunset, etc., who've begun noting the Wat Thai as something in the nature of a tourist destination (has there been a Hewell Hauser piece yet?). At that point, there's the risk of crossing the line into "hype". I DON'T want to see a "City-Walk-ization" of what is, after all a temple.


                    1. "I DON'T want to see a "City-Walk-ization" of what is, after all a temple. "

                      Don't worry too much for Wat Thai LA.
                      It has had some notoriety for quite some time.

                      Wat Thai LA is known to much of the Thai community as the "business" or "Hollywood" temple.
                      There are many other temples in Southern California that follow more traditional paths.

                      Although there seems to be quite a few more farang coming to the foodcourt, the actual crowds seem to be smaller than in the past.

                      1. I was one of those that came with really high expectations due to all the Chowhound hype. Actually, the letdown wasn't so much the food but the atmosphere. Since I read that it was such a surreal place and that I would be "transported" out of LA, I expected something totally different (I don't really know what) than what I encountered. I also drove all the way from the westside. But, I came for the papaya salad and mango with sweet rice and they were both delicious and a great value. I won't go out of my way again, but if I were in the area, I would definitely go again.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: Leon

                          "Surreal" wouldn't be my term, but it's about as close to classic Thai street food as one will find around here.

                          Convent Road, Bangkok, Thailand:

                        2. As others have briefly mentioned, it's a whole different ballgame on big holidays. I definitely feel transported out of LA during the throngs of Songkran, although this year it was so crowded that it was pretty much impossible to eat. I can imagine that if it was relatively quiet without the dancers and music and children bearing water cannons, it might not have the same transporting effect.

                          1. I' always get the chicken Larb Salad, Sticky Rice, and a few Chicken Satay Skewers, with that I'm good.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Ollie

                              fyi it's not satay. it's grilled chicken on a skewer, but not a satay recipe.

                            2. I think it's kind of a neat experience, but the food around Thai Town is much better. The best part of Wat Thai imo is the desserts.

                              1. BTW - the fish curry in a banana leaf is called haw mohk and the version at the Wat is pretty good, but often partially warm/partially cold. I like it, but I like restaurant versions too.

                                As a former BKK resident, I go to the Wat mostly to feel like I am back in Thailand. I wouldn't say it is transporting, but the temple looks like many temple complexes in Thailand and the food stalls remind me of many of the streets in my old neighborhood. For me it is more of a way of jumping back into some sense of community - and to practice my ear for pasa Thai (Thai language)-- than it is about amazing food.

                                That said, as everyone else mentioned, that som tum is completely killer and fresh khanom krohk isn't that easy to come by anywhere else. I really wish someone would open a stall with decent drinks - a true nam manao or some num dtahn sot would be very welcome on those hot NoHo days.

                                1. Re: the khanom krohk. While feasting on our fresh order at the picnic tables, a very sweet thai grandma started chatting with my wife, and gave her what appeared to be a likely 'recipe' for this dessert (however, she provided only the ingredient list and not actual measured amounts). My wife then subsequently purchased a neat cast-iron 'abel-skivver'(donut) pan while in Solvang, which bears a functional resemblance to the khanom khrok pan used at Wat Thai. If the pan and recipe yield anything similar to the outstanding coconut custard cups at the Wat, we'll post the 'recipe' and results on the Home Cooking board...

                                  1. Is it possible that, a couple of centuries ago, a wandering Danish missionary arrived in "The Orient" to convert "the heathens", toting an abel-skiwer in his pack to have something to eat that reminded him of home (there among the raw crab and fish-sauce eating multitudes...) and he encountered a canny Thai chef who thought: "Hmm. . . I wonder what I'd get if I dropped coconut milk and rice flour into this thing, and maybe a scallion or two?"

                                    After all, we know that red pepper got to thailand probably sometime AFTER 1500 CE, where it caught on like wild-fire . . .


                                    1. I usually only go there to pray. On the occasions that I have eaten there, I found the food extremely mediocre. Try Thai town for authentic thai restaurants like Yai.

                                      1. I was going to stay out of the fray, but as a person of another culture who had a similar experience I have to add my 2 cents. Particularly during Songkran it is very apparent that this is a place of community worship and exchange. You see the kids performing ,etc. My background eastern euro and it was deja vu in terms of my memories of being at German school every Saturday and then going to Alpine Village on special days to put on little performances, watch older kids dance(also happens at Songkran), eat sausages, etc. There were booths w/ the Lebkuchen hearts w/ the messages, etc. The point being, that as a previous poster noted, Wat Thai is a salad from the right vendor is in my mind- a miracle. The rest is an experience depending on the day. Key word- experience- not a given- take it as it comes, spend a litte time in reflection and you have an interesting day.

                                        1. I drove to L.A. from the OC for Wat Thai and was disappointed. The spicy catfish atop sticky rice was the biggest letdown. I liked the chiken and pork skewers but i thought ranch 99 has better and more shrimp-y shrimp balls. Costco shrimp balls is a tad better. Everything seemed to have some kind of coconut in it. I liked the jello desert with boba and coconut strips.

                                          Food was cheap but quality of food leaves a lot to be desired.

                                          We weren't very satisfied with our wat thai lunch that 4 hours after that, we gorged on great meat lasagna at Miceli's on Hollywood and Las Palmas.