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There are hundreds of Thai restaurants in Los Angeles, but if you are searching for a true Thai experience, go to Thai Town in East Hollywood. You won’t find glitzy restaurants with chefs who host food shows. What you will find is Thai culture.
“It’s so ghetto, but in a good way,” stated a tattooed man from Amsterdam who sat next to us while dining at Sanam Luang Cafe. He shared with us that he has lived in Los Angeles for over ten years and dines at Sanam Luang at least once a week. Call it ghetto, dive, or bare bones; the food is the draw here.
A friend of mine invited me to lunch with her at her favorite Thai restaurant. She has been dining here since she was a doctor in residency at the nearby Children’s Hospital. One of her Thai co-workers introduced her to the tiny restaurant located in a strip mall. In her opinion, Sanam Luang is the best Thai restaurant in L.A. “Nothing is bland on the menu and it’s as authentic as Thai food can get,” she said.
The outdoor awning boasts, “The Best Noodles in Town”. As we took a seat at one of the few boots, the décor reminded me of the inside of a donut shop. It’s very basic, with white walls, paper napkins and a tiny kitchen. Our tablemate from Amsterdam was enjoying the sliced beef salad on a bed of mixed greens and tomatoes with a spicy lime dressing. He also devoured shrimp cakes served with a sweet and sour sauce. I tried the deep fried ground shrimp and found the appetizer too greasy for my taste buds.
My friend said that we must try the Emperor’s noodles, because it’s her favorite dish and she orders it every time. On a simple plate arrived a mound of wide and flat rice noodles with scrambled eggs, chicken and shrimp. She asked the waitress to hold the squid. The orange sauce on top was divine. The waitress would not divulge the ingredients in the sauce. It was heavenly. Next, we tried the yellow curry with chicken, potatoes and onions in coconut milk. Silly me, I asked for brown rice. I received a “you’ve got to be kidding” look from our server and was told that they only serve white rice. The curry was mild per our request, yet lacked the carrots and sweetness I enjoy from my favorite Thai restaurant.
The majority of the items are priced under $7. Thai women prepare each dish fresh to order. Not many men work here, it’s mostly all women cooking, serving and managing the restaurant that has been in Hollywood for 25 years. Since it stays open nightly until 3 a.m., the place is usually packed with people late at night and in the early hours.
Nearby is Thailand Plaza, with a supermarket owned by the same family as the restaurant. You can find authentic Thai ingredients to prepare your favorite dishes at home. There is also a Thai Spirit House, where you can make a wish. Parking is tight here, so be prepared to walk a few blocks.
As we left, we said goodbye to our Amsterdam friend. “Wasn’t it beyond good?” he exclaimed. For the price, yes, but don’t go for the ambiance.
Sanam Luang Cafe, 5176 Hollywood Blvd. (323)660-8006. Thailand Plaza, 5321 Hollywood Blvd.
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