Jst two Los Angeles Metro Rail stops from the grungy glitter of the Hollywood Walk of Fame is a whole different world - Thai, American and Angeleno. The neighbourhood of Thai Town is buoyed by LA County’s Thai population, the largest in the country.
The blood, bile and bitter herbs of northern Thai cuisine, the lime-lashed food of the north-east and the incendiary funk of Southern seafood are all available, dished up with a for-us-by-us flavour that rewards nostalgia-seeking natives and open-minded novitiates alike.
Siam Sunset is a prime breakfast spot. Attached to a motel, it’s the Thai iteration of a great neighbourhood diner: a daytime dive that serves up soul-satisfying comfort - and cures for heartbreaks or hangovers - rather than dazzling destination eating.
Locals leaf through Thai-language newspapers as they wait for their iced coffees to kick in. A thick, savoury, oatmeal-esque rice porridge or rice soup are gentle wake-up calls.
Its version of a doughnut often runs out by noon, so get there early. Stubbier than their Chinese youtiao cousins, the fried fritters come with sweet condensed milk for dipping.
Don’t miss the $4.95 specials menu, particularly the spicy curry with noodles, perfumed with Thai basil, and the rice noodles with pork. A tofu pudding with ginger juice makes for a sweet finish.
Jitlada Restaurant doesn’t take reservations and is mobbed every evening, so sneak in for lunch. This casual strip-mall spot serves unapologetic Southern Thai cuisine, with its lusty embrace of mouth-staining turmeric, pungent odours (stink beans or satoh, the sulfuric emanations of acacia leaves) and extreme heat.
Other options include steamed mussels in fragrant, lemongrass-spiked broth or addictive salads with battered and fried spinach, pomelo (the milder direct ancestor of the grapefruit), or green mango and toasted coconut. The adventurous and asbestos-tongued should flip to the last four pages of the menu for Jitlada’s Southern specialties.
Those seeking liquid heat should order the fish-kidney curry, acacia-leaf omelet and shrimp in sour soup, or the Southern curry with “wild tea” leaves with clams.
Cool down with the mango and sticky rice for dessert.
Lacha Somtum Thai Restaurant specialises in tart, punchy north-eastern or Isan cuisine, and the Thai national obsession of som tum.
American diners probably have encountered “som tum Thai” - shards of green papaya pounded with peanuts, dried shrimp and other accompaniments. But som tum, literally meaning something like “sour pound”, comes in endless varieties.
It is less a material dish than a methodology, a mélange of highly seasoned ingredients bruised in a mortar and pestle.
If that’s too hard core, Lacha has other options. Its chefs pound fruit, salted eggs, corn or a tangle of rice vermicelli; they even fry green papaya shreds into great nests and provide a zingy sauce for pouring over the top.
Round out your meal with terrific meat salads tossed with lime juice, herbs and toasted rice powder - a minced-duck larb crispy with cracklings or a smoky grilled-pork salad. The fermented sausages and a spicy pork-rib soup are delicious.
Look for the Thai-language menu board and ask your server to translate, if you’re curious. Offerings can include an Isan bamboo salad or a tum with pickled mussels. - The Washington Post