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Is LA the center of the univ., Thai-Am food-wise?

s
silverlakebodhisattva Jun 28, 2007 03:41 PM

Regarding this claim, sez Eric M., (just in from Chicago, and bristling, as did yours truly at one time, with a certain Eastern something-or-other):

"That's b.s. Yes, LA is the "epicenter" of ThaiAm life, but it is NOT the only place in the U.S. where "truly authentic faire [sic]" can be found. Chicago, for one, has *several* exceptional Thai restaurants, and they all serve fully authentic Thai cuisine. How do I know that? I live in Chicago, I speak/read Thai, I've translated every one of these restaurants' Thai language menus and I am very well-connected in Chicago's Thai restaurant community. And, as authentic Thai food goes, Chicago is hardly alone. New York now has several good Thai restaurants. And, you'll find great Thai food in Portland, OR. And, in San Francisco. And, in Plano, TX, and..."

So let me ask, both LA-area and hounds from other locales: it's my impression that nowhere else in the U.S., at least for the moment, are there quite as many Thai places, running so large a gamut of price range, ambiance, authenticity, and geographic specificity. (See, e.g., Eric's own review of Jitlada, apparently one of the view genuinely "Southern Thai" places in the U.S.). I note, for instance, not only Sherman Way, but the block of Hollywood which includes Rodded, which by my recollection, features either four, or five, Thai restaurants, three of them on the same (north) side of the street.

Also, while I've had, from time to time in 30+ years in LA, bad food in a Thai restaurant, the occasions have been comparatively few, and I've eaten in a GANG of 'em.

So, my impression is that while you can FIND good Thai food elsewhere, you sure don't have to look quite as hard in L.A. (Plano, Texas?)

RFGS

  1. riceflour Jun 28, 2007 04:42 PM

    I agree that it's easier to find good Thai food here in LA than other places in the country. However, I must tell you all that there's one dish I've never found in any Thai restaurant here that I REALLY WANT. Okay, apparently, it's gone beyond that...

    I've been on a four-year quest for crispy pad thai with crispy chicken. The noodles are actually like those in the Chinese pan-fried noodle dish (thin egg noodles), the sauce has more tamarind and less fish sauce than LA pad thai, and the chicken is reminiscent of Japanese fried chicken.

    I've only had it at Rod Dee on Beacon St. in Brookline (MA). And it's not on the menu--one must ask for it by name. I've tried this at LA Thai places, but have always been answered by a questioning look (as if I were from Mars or speaking in tongues) or a brisk shake of the head (as if I'm asking for monkey brains in my noodles).

    Does anyone know of a place in LA where I can FINALLY soothe this craving?

    Here's the Boston restaurant:
    http://www.roddeethai.com/index.php

    My Thai ex tells me it's the most authentic in Boston, and still orders from the Brookline branch daily when he's in town.

    1 Reply
    1. re: riceflour
      Moomin Jun 28, 2007 05:03 PM

      As I understand it, crispy pad thai is a Boston area invention. Akin to the UK and chicken tikka masala. The difference is that crispy pad thai hasn't ever made it more than a few miles from the Charles River.

      I saw it a few times the last time I was there, and haven't ever seen it anywhere else (definitely not in thailand). Good luck finding something similar out here.

    2. Pei Jun 28, 2007 05:29 PM

      I can't say I've looked very hard in LA, and I certainly live in the wrong part of town for Thai (Century City). But in SF, I never had to look very far at all. Good Thai seemed to be everywhere. So much so that my SO had to beg me to limit our intake. He's not so much for the Thai. Loser...

      Granted, this is not a cuisine I've done extensive research into.

      2 Replies
      1. re: Pei
        choctastic Jun 28, 2007 08:15 PM

        You really need to visit "Thai Town". Fun place. Nothing like it in Frisco.

        1. re: Pei
          susancinsf Jun 28, 2007 08:29 PM

          oh man, I must very sadly disagree. There are a few good Thai places in the bay area, but in general, Thai in SF just simply can't hold a candle to Thai in LA. And I say that with confidence even though I have barely scratched the surface of LA Thai and haven't even really been to Thai Town...yet.

          for me, more research is obviously in order.

          Indeed, I have Jitlada at the top of my list for my next trip to LA, based on the review mentioned above.

          Yes, overall Thai in LA has SF beat, and indeed, I could well believe that it might be the Thai-Am center of the Universe. I guess you all need some compensation for having to put up with your baseball team.... :-)

        2. e
          Erik M Jun 28, 2007 08:28 PM

          And, I am not one to argue with you. LA undoubtedly has the greatest number of authentic Thai restaurants in the U.S. And, why wouldn't it? Given the huge Thai population in the L.A. area, it's simply a statistical probability. But, that's not what I was arguing about in the response quoted above. There, I took umbrage with SauceSupreme's assertion that, when it comes to authentic Thai food in the U,S., LA is the be-all and end all. It's not.

          E.M.

          5 Replies
          1. re: Erik M
            choctastic Jun 28, 2007 10:22 PM

            Well, maybe you and Sauce are just saying the same thing in different words. Yeah, LA has a lot of Thai people but obviously not every talented chef is going to settle there.

            And thanks again for the 3 reviews mentioned in related posts.

            Also, I hate to ask this but do you mind pointing me toward your recommendations in San Francisco and Portland? Perhaps on the appropriate board. I and my friends would be indebted to you. Thanks! (I apologize in advance if you have written this information somewhere and I just missed it due to being stupid and blind)

            1. re: choctastic
              e
              Erik M Jun 29, 2007 02:09 PM

              Well, I don't know where else, i.e., which other board, I should make these sorts of recommendations, so I will do it here and keep it brief...

              In The Greater Bay Area there is always Ruen Pair:

              http://www.ruenpair.com/reviews.htm

              And, I know that it doesn't take much effort to get dishes served to you in an authentic manner at "fancy" places like Marnee Thai, Thepin Thai, or Khan Toke Thai House:

              http://marneethaisf.com/

              [At Marnee, try the kai samun phrai, or "chicken with medicial herbs."

              ]

              http://thepinthai.ypguides.net/

              http://www.frommers.com/destinations/sanfrancisco/D41352.html

              As for Portland, there is Pok Pok:

              http://www.pokpokpdx.com/

              My friend Nick, who occasionlly posts on these boards as "extramsg," swears by Pok Pok, and he's one of the few fellow Americans that I trust for an opinion on such matters. The man knows what he's talking about. Anywayt, he made two exclusively food-oriented trips to Thailand last year, and he favourably compares Pok Pok to many of the best Thai restaurants in Los Angeles and Chicago. I am headed to Portand myself later this summer, and Pok Pok is at the *top* of my list.

              To bring it truly back on topic for this board, let me ask you, do you live in Los Angeles? And, if so, do you have any favourite Thai restaurants in the area?

              E.M.

              1. re: Erik M
                choctastic Jul 2, 2007 11:03 AM

                Thank you very much for this information. I unfortunately hvae had some bad experiences at Marnee thai but I will go back and try the chicken with medicinal herbs. When I say bad experiences, I mean mostly that the food and sauce were just kind of flabby and tired. one place I heard was worth trying was Thai House Express but I haven't tried it yet.

                I've seen extramsg's posts and I'll be sure to hit Pok Pok when I'm in Portland next.

                I live in Orange County but my new favorite restaurant is now Jitlada. I can't wait to try all the things on the new menu. This was a great service you did. I also enjoy going to Ruen Pair on Hollywood and my favorite bakery across the street. There are many places I would like to try but haven't had the chance.

            2. re: Erik M
              SauceSupreme Jun 28, 2007 11:01 PM

              And really no offense was taken; I'm actually shocked at myself that I wrote that. I think I just got carried away while writing my dissertation, as I would never knowingly brush other cities off the table so brazenly, certainly none of the quality of Chicago or New York (Plano, on the other hand, I'll have to take your word for it!).

              1. re: SauceSupreme
                e
                Erik M Jun 29, 2007 07:23 AM

                Here's the story on Plano, TX:

                My friend Scott, who lives in Dallas/Fort Worth, stumbled across a Thai language menu at a Thai restaurant in Plano, TX, called Jasmine Thai. He was terribly curious about the offerings on this menu and so he sent it to me to translate for him because he knew that it was a "hobby" of mine. Now, I haven't officially completed my translation, but I will tell you that the portion of it which I have actually completed and annotated (roughly 90%) completely bowled me over. I myself couldn't believe that such a place existed in little 'ol Plano, TX. Anyway, Scott has since done some research, and the reality is much as I suspected: Plano and the surrounding area *does* have a somewhat statistically significant Thai population, but it's not nearly large enough to keep this restaurant cranking out these special menu items out on a full-time basis. Instead, a great number of the them are only available with some advance notice. At some point, SS, when the weather cools off a bit, I'll be down there myself to get it all figured out. Anyway, I can tell you from years of experience here in Chicago that translating/publishing these menus for an American audience/patronage *can* make a world of difference when it comes to securing the free and easy availability of these sorts of offerings. The American dining public is clearly ready to explore these newer dining options, and so the question is really left to the restaurants themselves: do they wish to take a chance on serving a non-Thai clientele or not? In the past, doing so was often considered to be financial suicide by many Thai restaurant owners as picky Americans had a habit of insisting on being served the same things they curiously eyed on the tables of their Thai dining counterparts, but then compaining, sending back, and/or refusing to pay for them once they had been served. LA is way out in front on that curve, for sure, as the Thai restaurant community in LA has been relatively comfortable serving a curious/adventuresome American dining clientele for awhile now. But, there are many places in the country where that is still far from the case.

                BTW, I just did a keyword search and I see that Jasmine Thai has already been discussed at Chowhound at some length:

                http://www.chowhound.com/topics/308165

                Regards,
                E.M.

            3. e
              estone888 Jun 29, 2007 08:58 AM

              L.A. does have the largest Thai population in the world outside of Thailand. So it should, and does, have a greater variety and number of good Thai restaurants than pretty much anywhere else outside of Thailand. Critical mass, competition, that sort of thing.

              That said - I WANT MY SOI POLO FRIED CHICKEN! Does anyone have any idea if any restaurant in the L.A. area serves fried chicken that is similar to the chicken one can eat on Soi Polo in Bangkok?

              2 Replies
              1. re: estone888
                i
                igj Jun 29, 2007 10:00 AM

                Unfortunately, just because we have a huge Thai population doesn't mean we get every Thai dish here. You miss Soi Polo Fried Chicken; I miss the (ever scarcer, even in BKK) made-to-order miang kum. I have bought a few of the DIY miang kum kits at the various Thai markets around LA, but it is not the same as telling an ancient looking lady crouched down on the street that that you want two sticks of miang kum without the dried shrimp and light on the ginger...

                Anyone know of street-style miang kum to be had in LA?

                1. re: igj
                  e
                  estone888 Jun 29, 2007 11:53 AM

                  Oh yum! Yeah, I miss that too. And a lady who used to hang out on Soi 11 near the Swiss Park Hotel who made big, thick chunks of fish coated with a green curry paste she'd make and then steam in banana leaf packets. She sold them out of a large cooler.

              2. e
                Erik M Jun 29, 2007 12:54 PM

                It is rather presumptuous of me, I know, but I assume that you meant to direct your Chicago query to me. ;)

                So, if I may, here is my official line: I do not pick favourites. Tell me what you like and I can tell you where to go. For example...

                If you want oodles of noodles and noodle soups just like you might find at authentic LA noodle houses like NoodleThaiTown or Sapp, well, then I'd send you to Rosded:

                http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?p=75060#75060

                http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?p=117125#117125

                http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?p=33147#33147

                If instead you would like a place which specializes in BKK and the Central Plains cookery of Thailand, well, I'd probably send you to Siam's House in Niles.

                And, if you wanted a place which specialized in aggressively hot and salty Isaan-style fare like you might find at Renu Nakorn, Sri Siam, or the North Hollywood Wat I'd send you to Aroy Thai.

                And, if you wanted a place with a 150+ item menu heavily-weighted towards the unique foodstuffs of far Northern Thailand, I'd send you to Sticky Rice.

                And, if you wanted a place which serves a variety of dishes (and specials) from all over Thailand, I'd send you to either Spoon Thai or TACQuick:

                http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?p=74762#74762

                http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic.php?p=86439#86439

                And, if you wanted a Thai joint with a quasi-underground late-night drinking, snacking, and khao tom menu like you might find at Kruang Tedd, Hollywood Thai Restaurant or Ruen Pair, I'd recommend Dharma Garden:

                http://www.lthforum.com/bb/viewtopic....

                At any rate, get in touch with me when you are soon to arrive in Chicago. Most of these Thai restaurants have copies of my translations on hand, but I will be happy to provide you with translations for those that do not.

                E.M.

                1. a_and_w Jun 29, 2007 02:00 PM

                  NY basically has one really good Thai restaurant, Sripraphai. What shocks me about LA is the way even thoroughly westernized Thai tastes good out here...

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: a_and_w
                    e
                    Erik M Jun 29, 2007 04:02 PM

                    I realize that I am at a distinct advantage as a Thai speaker/reader, but simply knowing the ins-and-outs of ordering *real* Thai food in the *real* Thai manner will net you excellent results at shops like Khao Homm, Zabb, and Chao Thai. At any rate, a shop like Chao will graciously run through/translate the Thai language menu offerings for non-Thais and those folks who cannot read Thai.

                    E.M.

                    1. re: Erik M
                      s
                      surly Jun 30, 2007 12:01 AM

                      not to go off on a non-LA tangent here, but you're right, chao thai can be pretty good *when it's on*. the problem is that they're not particularly consistent. on a good day, i definitely think they're better than sripraphai. on a bad day, they're worse, but still better than almost anything else of its type in greater ny. as i said in the other post ( http://www.chowhound.com/topics/416072 ), no place in ny is as good as the "typical" place in LA's thai town, but i think you and i agree on most of these basic points anyhow.

                      btw, khao homm closed down a while back. zabb's still around and so far one of the only places that serves issan dishes, but i dunno, i think it's really hit-or-miss. if you can recall, what did you like there?

                      getting back to LA thai food, like my fellow ny hound a and w, i'm always amazed how much better the overall average quality is than in ny. i totally believe you when you say that ordering properly (perhaps with thai language skills as a bonus) will make for a much better dining experience, even in ny restaurants, but all i know is that whenever i come back to ny from a trip to LA i'm immediately craving the stuff back in thai town or at wat thai; that's how much better it is. the stuff i've had at sripraphai or chao thai tastes uninspired and pedestrian compared to what i've had at many of the popular places mentioned on the LA boards.

                      btw, thanks for all the great insights into thai food around the country. very informative.

                      1. re: Erik M
                        a_and_w Jul 2, 2007 10:30 AM

                        Erik, could you expand on this notion of "ordering *real* Thai food in the *real* Thai manner"? Of the places you mention, I've only been to Khao Homm but must not have ordered correctly. Anyway, now that I'm in LA, I'd love any tips you have on how to get the most out of my Thai food!

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