Eat This Now: Chef Jet Tila's Top 10 L.A. Thai Dishes

Jet Tila Portrait - P 2013
Myleen Hollero

Jet Tila Portrait - P 2013

Tila -- a food TV vet and the Thai government’s Culinary Ambassador to America -- selects his favorites on the eve of the first annual Thai Food Festival at Paramount Studios.

Jet Tila, who served as Anthony Bourdain’s Sherpa on No Reservations through L.A.’s Thai Town, is now the Thai government’s Culinary Ambassador to America. In that capacity, the L.A. chef, who has competed on Iron Chef America and judged on Chopped (his current project is The Charleston in Santa Monica), is hosting the first annual Thai Food Festival on Sept. 29 at the Paramount Studios lot.

In preparation for Sunday’s event, Tila dishes to The Hollywood Reporter about his top 10 favorite Thai menu items in town. “Thai people don’t go eat ‘Thai food,’” he says. “They go to restaurants for particular dishes. So for this list, either nobody else in Los Angeles makes the dish or the place is the best at it or else the restaurant originated it.”

1. Spicy Thai BBQ’s Northern Thai Curry Noodles with Beef
“There are very few recognized northern Thai restaurants in L.A. And this one is probably the best, if not the best. When you go on vacation in northern Thailand, you taste this dish, which is called Khao Soi.” 5101 Santa Monica Blvd., 323.663.4211

2. Bahn Kanom Thai’s Pang Chi
“They are coconut, taro and corn fritters. They make literally 600 to 700 of these throughout the entire day. It comes to you hot off the griddle. It doesn’t speak for all Thai desserts. It’s got thousands of different imported confections there, but this is made in-house. And it’s a sense memory. Walking into that dessert shop is getting a hand job for your nose.” 5271 Hollywood Blvd., 323.871.8030

3. Sanamluang Cafe’s Thai Boat Beef Noodles
“It’s the quintessential place for lunch or late night. Any time you have noodles, it’s not straight Thai food. It’s a hybrid of Thai-Chinese food. And that’s the Chinese influence in Thailand. They make the same version. The secret to boat noodles is braising the crap out of the brisket and then marrying into it fresh beef blood, which creates this unctuous mouthfeel. It’s velvety. Any traces of iron or liver are just gone. It’s basically Thai pho.” 5176 Hollywood Blvd., 323.660.8006

4. Ruen Pair’s Thai-Style Papaya Salad
 “People don’t know that Thais stole papaya salad from Laotians. What’s unique about Thai papaya salad is when you pound in shrimp as opposed to crab, which is what the Laotians did. When you use salted, dried shrimp -- mortar it in, as vehicles for umami -- that’s what makes it Thai. And they do it best in the country, and I know that’s a bold statement but I am the ambassador.” 5257 Hollywood Blvd., 323.466.0153

5. Jitlada’s Steamed Mussels With Thai Herbs
“You start with New Zealand green mussels. You have a lot of lemongrass, Thai basil and garlic, pack it into a pound or two of mussels, steam it all together, so it marries with all of these herbal flavors, and the broth from that is incredibly good. And nobody does it better than Jitlada. And they’re southern Thai, by the way.” 5233 W. Sunset Blvd., 323.663.3104

6. Night+Market’s Pork Satay
“Satay is one of these dishes that’s become well-known and semi-iconic and boring as hell. Usually it’s dry with no flavor. But at Night+Market, the chef, Kris Yenbamroong, uses condensed milk in his marinade, which is pretty old-school. Usually it’s coconut milk. He takes a piece of pork fat. There’s a giant nugget of pure fat at the base of it. If you eat the thing in one bite, it marries in the mouth perfectly, because you have the lean part at the one end, and it’s marinated at the other end. And it’s grilled over coals. And you have this fat nugget surprise that completely puts it over the top.” 9041 W. Sunset Blvd., 310.275.9724

7. Yai’s Pork Belly In Spicy Basil
“Yai is famous for its perfectly cooked pork belly. Chinese-style is really dry. But with this, they moist-cook it first. It’s three steps. They moist-cook, then they dry it in the oven, so the exterior gets nice and dry. Then they deep-fry. So it makes it ridiculously crispy on the edges. It’s super-moist on the inside and yet ridiculously crispy on the edges. The portions are generous and they take it to another level by cooking it in garlic and Thai chile. It all flash-caramelizes and all renders, then you eat it over jasmine rice.” 5757 Hollywood Blvd., 323.462.0292

8. Pa Ord’s Tom Yum Noodles
“If you can imagine hot-and-sour noodles, add a s---load of noodles in there, some pork cracklins, some fish balls and fish cakes. Turn up the heat. No one else makes that dish.” 5301 Sunset Blvd., 323.461.3945

9. Sapp Coffee Shop’s Jade Noodles
“This is the place where I took Anthony Bourdain. The owner makes noodles with spinach, so they are green, like an Italian spinach pasta. In these noodles there is roast duck, roast pork, ground duck, liver, a little bit of chile. I can’t think of another place in the western United States that has this dish.” 5183 Hollywood Blvd., 323.665.1035

10. Siam Sunset’s Guay Jab
“The only legit Thai breakfast restaurant in L.A., they start rocking by 6 a.m. and they are done by 1 o’clock. It’s the equivalent of a breakfast diner. It’s packed every day. They go until they run out. Guay Jab is a Chinese word. It’s a five-spice offal stew with rolled noodles. You’ve never seen a noodle sheet that curls up. It’s like a carpet that rolls up. They look like rolled noodles. It’s offal bits that have become popular -- large intestine, heart, kidney, skin, liver. Those meat bits are braised with pork bone in five-spice in a nice luscious soy broth. They are cooked down until they are barbecue-tender, until you could literally pull them apart. They are shaved really thin. Then you get these rolled noodles in them. Then they are topped with a bit of cracklins. This and a little rice porridge is basically breakfast for a lot of Thai people.” 5265 W. Sunset Blvd., 323.467.8935