For the casual observer passing Tuk Tuk, it might seem as though there has been an accident. The front of a tuk tuk—the Thai term for rickshaw—juts from the front of the building above the awning, as though its wheel has just burst through the wall. But if that observer ventured inside, they would find neither debris nor an apologetic teleporter proclaiming that his calculations were off. Instead they would see diners seated beneath colorful wall art and hanging lamps whose shades resemble curving Möbius strips, or, according to one review from Gayot, snail shells. Then, once the adrenaline faded and reality set in, the investigating observer would be smacked by what was so obvious to everyone else: the aroma of mingling spices.
A compendium of noodle dishes, wok stir-fries, curries, and house specialties, the menu prioritizes the power of complementary ingredients. According to the same Gayot review, chef Aoi Rattanamanee has a particular knack for seasoning grilled dishes: "Chicken is marinated overnight in garlic, cilantro and black pepper, fostering deep flavor." The spicy basil fried rice mixes chili and thai basil within a vegetable medley, and the Crying Tiger beef derives its zest from garlic, galangal root, and soybean sauce. Those in search of proven staples can indulge in pad thai or one of three curry variants, whose ingredients have all simmered in a creamy coconut milk.
Today, the Los Angeles foodscape is saturated with the culinary styles of countries from the other side of the Pacific. But nearly 40 years ago, that was hardly the case. In 1976, Supa Kuntee and her family opened Chao Krung, one of L.A.'s very first Thai restaurants (the second ever, as far as they know). Early on, they attracted hordes of curious diners who had never sampled the Kuntees' native foods. Years later, the family still follows those traditional recipes when crafting their wide selection of noodle, rice, curry, grill-based, and wok-prepared entrees. The pad thai is quite popular, as is papaya salad and tom yum, a soup that can be made with spicy lemongrass chicken or tofu and mushrooms.
As they did with the menu, the Kuntees looked to authentic Thai traditions when designing Chao Krung. They pride themselves on recreating the elaborate decor found in many Bangkok restaurants, hinted at by the intricately carved welcome sign that greets guests in two languages. From tables set with linen napkins folded into lotus flowers, people can admire the ornate mural of the Chao Praya riverbank, or gaze through one the painted window boxes set into teak-wood walls. An illuminated sala roof, meanwhile, covers one end of the bar, protecting patrons from the intrusive gaze of any secret agent spies hiding in the rafters.
Nariya Thai?s menu not only packs in the flavor of traditional Thai cuisine; many entrees are also seasoned with healthy ingredients such as garlic, ginger, and kaffir lime to aid in digestion, weight loss, and warding off vampires. The menu includes red, yellow, and green curries and honors the grill with barbecue chicken and pork options. Chefs whip up aromatic dishes of pra ram by combining beef, chicken, or pork with steamed vegetables and peanut sauce. A happy-hour menu allows friends and coworkers to gather for discounted cocktails and beers and small bites of golden tofu, Thai-style buffalo wings, and spring rolls offered from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. on weekdays. Nariya Thai offers patio seating and hookah, and are open to 2 a.m. with live music after 10 p.m on Tuesday through Sunday.
Located on Robertson Boulevard, just north of Olympic, Natalee Thai Cuisine offers traditional Thai food prepared with fresh ingredients, served family-style and includes a full bar. This location, near Beverly Hills, is in a strip mall, but once inside, the atmosphere reflects a more high-end eatery. The interior is spacious with high ceilings and contemporary décor, including dark wood accents and modern lighting fixtures. The Thai dishes at Natalee are light and flavorful, without being too greasy. Some favorite appetizers include papaya salad, spring rolls and chicken sate. Many customers rave about the Korean BBQ beef and the combination rice with shrimp, beef and chicken. Service is attentive and dishes are delivered quickly.
After a visit to nearby Universal Studios, a fantasyland of fictional set pieces, diners might be craving something real and authentic. Gala Thai answers the call with meat and vegetarian curries, drunken noodles, and green tea ice cream, which can be enjoyed inside or on the outdoor patio.
Summer Canteen is nothing if not neighborly. Not only do its gourmet Thai dishes borrow from Burmese and Vietnamese cuisines, but its long shared tables create a friendly atmosphere. The communal-like setting may be irregular for such upscale food, but it’s a welcome relief.