I often ask Thai people in Los Angeles where they like to eat Thai food in LA. I have come up with a list of my recommendations. So far, to my surprise, I have not met a Thai person who highly recommends the much lauded and celebrated Jitlada. The handful of times I have been there I could not tell you a favorite dish out of their recommendations and Southern Thai menu. All I remember is not tasting any flavors because of the level of spicyness of their food. I guess if this is your thing then you will love it.
Wat Thai of Los Angeles
This weekly weekend food festival is my top recommendation for Thai food in Los Angeles. This is Thai cooking for the Los Angeles Thai community. The temple is open if you want to sit, meditate, and observe. The monks are very friendly if you care for a photo.
Sapp Coffee Shop
My most favorite Thai restaurant in Hollywood. The epitome of hole-in-the-wall restaurants with deceiving signage in LA. It's not really a coffee shop, although they do serve bottomless Thai coffee (at least for me). The food is hit or miss, but they have consistently good service compared to the grumps over at Ruen Pair. Their most popular and dependable dishes are the dry jade noodles and their boat noodle soup. This is my breakfast spot in Hollywood. Yep, noodles in the AM.
Sapp Coffee Shop on Yelp
Sri Siam is a destination restaurant. The dish to get is the crispy rice salad with sour sausage. They have been making this dish since the 80s and no one in LA does it better IMHO. They are also known for their spicy pork ribs. I cannot get enough of their off menu curry puffs. They have off menu items if you ask. All the top chefs in the know eat here. Chef Jessica Koslow of Sqirl is a fan. Not sure why this place is never busy.
I am a regular here and most often order takeout. The chefs in the back already know my face. It is insanely cheap and the food is consistently good. My recommendations stray from what most American food writers have talked about at this restaurant. Go with the labor intensive crispy catfish with papaya or apple salad and a side of sticky rice. The dynamite wings is another item to try from their "chef recomendations" list. I have not had a bad dish here so far. During the weekends, try their housemade Thai sour sausage.
This is one of those hidden gems you prefer to remain a secret. Their cooking across the board is very good. The menu is large and will please both the Thai (ask what Thai people order) and American palate. They make a killer pad thai in both Thai style and American style. My current favorite in LA. There is a secret Thai menu for Thai people if you can read Thai script.
The trek to Norwalk is a must for the hardcore foodist. The original owners opened Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas which is what most top chefs consider as "the best restaurant in Las Vegas." 40 years later, the restaurant is still going strong with the best khao soi I've tasted in Los Angeles. Again, ask them to recommend what Thai people eat at their restaurant. It will surely be very spicy.
Renu Nakorn on Yelp
I was told that Lacha Somtum has the best papaya salad. It's a low-key spot that has a casual Asian coffee house or boba shop feel. I had their papaya salad and my mouth was on fire. You might have to ask for a pitcher of water while trying their papaya salad.
As you enter, you might notice the sticker outside that distinguishes this restaurant as serving "authentic Thai cuisine" by the Ministry of Commerce in Thailand. I wasn't sure if they would have salted egg papaya salad, but that's what I wanted to order. I swear years ago this spot was Isaan Station where I first tasted this dish. I ask my server if this is the same owner as Isaan Station in Koreatown and she said that it was (although the LA Weekly said that it isn't).
They have a large menu of Thai dishes that I haven't seen elsewhere. It's definitely a place I would recommend bringing a large group to sample all the dishes instead of dining solo. After feeling like I had to pull teeth to get recommendations, my server convinced me to get the chicken satay. I was apprehensive about ordering it because I usually don't order it because most places seem to overcook it. These skewers were a stand out. Moist and flavorful, they also glaze it with a sauce I feel I didn't need the peanut or vinegar dip.
Khaosan Thai Street Food
A bit out of the way in Woodland Hills is a small restaurant serving Thai street food. This is probably the best Thai food you will find in the West San Fernando Valley. Probably one of the best khao soi in Los Angeles. The owners certainly thinks so and told me that they are proud of their khao soi and it is the best outside of Thailand.
Thai 'N I
Barbecue beef ribs. I lived and worked in the area and craved their ribs. This Thai restaurant serves my favorite beef ribs in Los Angeles. I usually get it with a side of pad thai. The place used to be hole-in-the-wall, but was renovated to look updated and much trendier.
Wat Dong Moon Lek
Wat Dong Moon Lek is where chef Kris Yenbamroong would eat Thai food before coming up with the Night + Market concept. This art student turned "chef" seems to get all the media attention and aims to please the hipster sceney audience and not Thai people. I digress... I am not a fan.
WDML is also where the Luv2Eat Thai Bistro chef loves to eat Thai food. WDML is the OG trendy and most imitated Silver Lake Thai restaurant. They are known for their Wat Dong Moon Lek noodles. The owners purchased the original recipe from the famous restaurant in Thailand.
My advice right now is to go off menu and order the soft shell crab (2 versions) or addicting taro pad thai. They have been experimenting with some new dishes lately and have plans to launch a new menu featuring rare regional dishes.
Chef and owner Jenny Seetathaworn attended pastry school and it is evident when dessert is available. Her mango and sticky rice plating has currently "inspired" some Thai restaurants in Los Angeles.
Tip: Let them know you want authentic Thai spicy. Many of their customers complained in the early days of the spice level being too high so all you have to do is state your tolerance for heat.
I love exploring Los Angeles like a tourist. I have as much fun in my hometown as I do traveling to another country. I hope my adventures inspire you to eat well and travel often.