Allow me to be bold in saying that the San Fernando Valley is probably the food capital of Los Angeles. Almost anything you can think of you can find in the Valley. It's true. You just have to ask around or take a risk and discover your new favorite restaurant. In the Valley, there are so many hidden gems waiting to be discovered. The Valley is the kind of place where chefs eat to be inspired.
Chai Thung is one of those places. It's not related to the Chai Thung in Hollywood that LA Times food critic Jonathan Gold reviewed many years ago. Chai Thung opened 10 years ago in Sun Valley and has been flying under the radar. It's a regional Thai restaurant serving E-San/Isaan (Northeastern Thai) cuisine. They also have Chinese food, but they told me it's different and a Thai-style of cooking.
When is it an appropriate time to get a feel for a restaurant? For some places I visit, I get the feel on my first visit. I was one of the first customers at Here's Looking At New and knew instantly it was going to be hit during my first visit. Now with Chai Thung, it has taken me three visits to get to know it better. My first visit, I had a server who barely spoke any English. She recommended I get the (Americanized) pad Thai. Mind you, they have two versions I found out later. She underestimated my taste in food.
My second visit, I visited on a Tuesday for lunch when I found out that there are a couple of servers that speak English really well that revealed to me that there is a secret menu reserved for Thai people. They presented it to me and I could not read a thing. It was all written in Thai. That second visit, I decided to try their crispy fried catfish with apple salad which is on their regular menu. A dish I've tried before at Bua Siam in North Hollywood. They also revealed to me that there are specials that are not on any of the menus such as a quail dish and frog legs. I was determined to dive into these dishes during my next visit.
My last visit, I brought 8 people with me to explore the more exotic items on the menu. I wanted it to be worthwhile for the group to drive out to Sun Valley. There's plenty of places all over Los Angeles that serve Thai barbecue chicken and pad Thai. We even brought someone who is Thai to guide us through the secret menu. We ordered some dishes on the secret menu -- the whole trout and the soured pork ribs, a dish I've had before at Sri Siam. We also ordered the pork jerky off the and a squid dish from the regular menu. Our Thai dining companion ordered those dishes. We also got to try the more authentic spicy pad Thai without any food coloring.
All the dishes were prepared really well exemplifying the owner's talent in the kitchen rather than front-of-house. Each dish that Gina made was outstanding, including the dips and sauces. Someone who was not so adventurous ordered the barbecue chicken. Even thought that wasn't a dish I would order here, it was delicious. The bird was flavorful and moist. I loved the dipping sauce. I most recently had this dish at Sapp Coffee Shop and this version topped that their barbecue chicken which was flavorless.
With the discovery of Chai Thung, I'm very sure there are more hidden gems waiting for me to discover in the Valley. I just recently tried a Guatamalan resto and was impressed with the dish I tried. I can't wait to try even more dishes. As I mentioned, I don't know of any region of LA where there are so many heavy hitting restaurants. We have an outstanding representation food from different countries... and the some of the best sushi in Los Angeles. The San Fernando Valley is not a bad place to live for those of us that are willing to search past the Eater blog listicles that tend to ignore the rich culinary scene in of the San Fernando Valley.
Recommended dishes: Sour pork ribs, pork jerky, crispy catfish with papaya salad, whole trout, authentic spicy pad Thai.
8430 Sunland Blvd
Sun Valley, CA 91352
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.