Home to the largest population of Thais outside of Thailand, Los Angeles is known as Thailand’s 78th province. It’s also home to the only officially recognized Thai Town in America (located in East Hollywood along a six-block stretch of Hollywood Blvd between Normandie and Western Avenues).
And with tens of thousands of Thais in Los Angeles, it’s no surprise that LA is one of the best places in the world, outside of Thailand, to eat delicious and authentic Thai food. So to help me discover and understand LA’s vibrant Thai culinary scene, I enlisted the help of Food Network personality, restauranteur, lifelong Angelino, and America’s Thai Culinary Ambassador (as appointed by the Royal Thai Consulate), Jet Tila.
You may know Jet as a judge on Food Network’s Cutthroat Kitchen (he was also a long time guest judge on Chopped), or from one of his many TV appearances on shows like Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations and Parts Unknown, The Today Show, Iron Chef America, and The Talk, just to name a few. And if you don’t know Jet (beyond meeting him in the video you’re about to watch below), you likely will one day soon for one of the many projects he has up his sleeve.
Together, Jet and I began our day at his family’s Thai market to learn about essential Thai ingredients, then ate at one of his favorite Thai restaurants, followed that up with some Thai deserts, and finally, left Thai Town to see how Jet’s culinary empire spans way beyond Thai cuisine at his newest venture, Stir Market. Enjoy.
Bangkok Market - Founded by Jet’s parents in 1972 (six years after immigrating from Thailand), Bangkok Market was America’s very first Thai Market. Today, it carries over 7,000 Southeast Asian products — and since Jet spent his entire childhood stocking the shelves after school, he knows them all like the back of his hand.
- Pro Tip: Know you want to make Thai food, but need a recipe? Near the front of the store you’ll find a stack of Thai recipes designed by Jet (including his famous Thai Penang Beef Curry) that lay out everything you need to make a delicious Thai dish.
Yai Restaurant - This place tends to fly under the radar when it comes to the mainstream Thai food scene in LA — but it’s Jet’s secrete favorite spot. Tucked away in an unassuming strip mall on the fringes of Thai Town, Yai Restaurant should be your new go-to Thai place (especially if you’re a pork belly fan).
- Pro Tip: Here’s your order (just repeat this to your waitress) – Spicy Basil Pork Belly, Steamed Seafood Curry, and a side of rice. Add a Catfish Salad or a Papaya Salad to start if you’d like. Jet also recommends the pork belly in drunken noodles.
Bhan Kanom Thai - Bhan Kanom Thai is the Willy Wonka of Thai desserts and easily one of my favorite shops in LA (if you’re a traveler or just like trying new things, you’ll agree). They serve up a variety of freshly baked goods as well as packaged desserts and snack foods, so sample some in the shop and buy more to take home with you.
- Pro Tip: Don’t leave without trying Kanom Krok (roasted coconut milk). And when it’s in season (starting in late winter/early spring), grab an order of Mango Sticky Rice. Trust me.
Stir Market – Jet’s newest venture, Stir Market, is a European-style food hall that features a curated retail experience, gourmet take-away items, an eat-in breakfast, lunch and dinner menu, and a great bar with beer and wines on tap.
- Pro Tip: If you’re looking for a casual spot to grab a glass of wine in this part of town, check this place out. And if you’re looking for breakfast/brunch without the hassle/waiters/hoopla that comes with most brunches in LA, swing by Stir Market and order their Meyer Lemon Pancakes and After School Cinnamon French Toast and take them outside to the patio.
Want To Tour Thai Town With Jet?
A few times per year, Jet takes a small group of hungry people on a culinary tour of Thai Town with Melting Pot Tours (Bhan Kanom Thai is on the tour, the others places featured in the video are not). The only scheduled date remaining in 2015 is on August 16th, and as of right now, spots are still available. Tickets are $125 and you can buy them here.
Video Credits: Edited by Sam Dakil. Shot by Corey McClean. Voice over recording: Cody Skully.