A plate of pad Thai and a bowl of pineapple curry. Pandan custard chasing down a heaping platter of spicy larb. A fascinating assortment of groceries in a language I don’t even pretend to understand. A relaxing foot massage. If this sounds like a good way to spend a day, you might want to explore Los Angeles’ Thai Town neighborhood.
Thai Town is unique – literally. It is the only recognized Thai Town in the world. For decades, working-class Thai immigrants have settled here, in a small area of East Hollywood. Officially, Thai Town is just a six block area of Hollywood Boulevard (between Western and Normandie), but the influence extends a bit in each direction from there. Officially formed in 1999, Thai Town is even well-known back in Thailand, sometimes referred to as the 77th province. (Thailand has 76 provinces.)
Fueled by working-class immigration, much of Thai Town is below the poverty line. Many immigrants work in the area’s many authentic restaurants or massage parlors. And supporting those businesses is one of the main reasons to get your Thai fix here rather than at a more commercial place anywhere else in the city. Here in Thai Town, things feel more Thai.
A day in Thai Town must start with (and end with) food, and there is no shortage of truly spectacular restaurants lining this narrow stretch of Los Angeles. On this trip, I began at Thai Patio, mainly because it has a patio and I am not yet ready to brave indoor dining in pandemic times. The restaurant sits in a strip mall, and seems generic. The food is anything but. Fresh rolls, pad Thai, pineapple curry. They are ordered, served quickly, and eaten even more rapidly. All are delicious, and at a price point that will make you consider ordering more to take home. (But there are so many more places to try.) The pineapple curry is the highlight. Just trust me on that.
Thai cuisine is not known for its sweets, but you wouldn’t know that when you walk into Bhan Kanom Thai, in the same shopping center as Thai Patio. This shop specializes in Thai desserts. Few are labeled, so I decided to just grab a few that looked good. I asked what I was buying at the register, and was told that I was about to enjoy a Thai tea custard, sweet rolls filled with pandan (a Thai leaf) custard, and crispy crepes with meringue and coconut. Again, all were amazing!
Properly full (stuffed would be a better term), a walk around Thai Town would be in order. While the area is mostly strip malls and store fronts, a few things will be sure to catch your eye. Ceremonial lamp posts from the Thai Town dedication are beautiful, and you can even find a street-side shrine.
Not ready to eat again quite yet? Thai Town is chalk full of affordable massage parlors. A half hour foot massage for A (you’ll know her from our date nights) from Nuch Thai Massage was just the thing to recharge us. Well, it recharged her and that recharged me. The foot massage begins with a fragrant pool and rubbing your foot on warm stones inside it, followed by a foot and calf massage by hand. If I liked being touched, I might have gotten one, too.
With your feet (or back, as you prefer) feeling relaxed, it’s time to shop for interesting groceries. Silom Supermarket is the place to go – and it’s really the only major Thai market in the area. Get some weird produce (like the aforementioned pandan leaves), maybe some snacks, a basil seed drink, and peruse the aisles for unique sauces. Or teas. Or any number of types of rice noodles, spice mixes, pickled vegetables, or whatever else jumps out at you. Prices seem lower than most markets, even for some staples, so you’ll get pretty good value for your dollar.
Ready to eat again? Yeah, probably not, but takeout for later is always in order. A couple blocks off Hollywood Boulevard (on Sunset at Hobart), you’ll find Northern Thai Food Club. The outside windows are covered with blowups of articles written about this place, and they don’t exaggerate. Get the larb. Order the pork belly curry. Try the Thai sausage appetizer (it’s got a texture that is unlike any sausage you’ve had). Prices are incredibly reasonable, service is quick, and your palate will thank you later, especially if you like spice.
Los Angeles’ Thai Town may be small, but like Thai food itself, it packs a punch. A visit is a treat for the eyes, taste buds, and feet. Don’t miss visiting!
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