111 N. Fairfax Ave. #2110
Los Angeles, CA 90036
By MICHAEL AUSHENKER | Contributing Writer
Enter Chao Krung and you’ve arrived through a portal that has transported you 8,000 miles away.
A colorfully tropical environment with a mural and a dash of Tiki bar mystique, Chao Krung’s ambiance may remind you of a spot nearby the beaches of Phuket … and if it doesn’t, a few orders from the restaurant’s full bar of wine, beer and cocktails will surely get you there.
There is also a lot of history on these walls, with rows of photographs telling jigsaw pieces of the origins of Chao Krung (in the Thai language, it refers to something like a Bangkokian or “from the city”) which dates back to 1969 when married couple Boon and Supa Kuntee and Supa’s sister, Jinata Nillaung, arrived in California and established what is today Los Angeles’ oldest Thai restaurant.
Boon and Supa originally started Chao Krung at a location closer to Thai Town in Hollywood before relocating to the present Fairfax District address, where the restaurant has remained ever since.
In fact, the couple’s enterprising daughters, Katy Noochlaor and Amanda Kuntee, who today run the premises, attended Fairfax High School nearby.
Two years ago, the restaurant went through a revamp, with both the interior environs and the menu changed. Today, the selections, as vast and comprehensive as a Jerry’s Deli menu, are much too expansive to cover in this review space, so I will only focus on the items that I ordered.
However, rest assured that customers can find just about any Thai delicacy and more at this location, and the management has preserved many of the popular items that helped build the original’s longevity, while the founders’ daughters have added their own recipes to the mix, including Seua Rong Hai (Crying Tiger Beef).
Another addition, a simple but powerful way to start your meal here: Isaan Sausage (Amanda’s Thai Sour Sausage), a delicious appetizer comprised of several small, spicy pork links served with lemongrass, garlic, coriander root and white pepper, to top a side of sticky fried rice. The order comes with a small side of fresh ginger, lime and bird’s eye chili to add additional flavors.
Another excellent way to launch a meal at Chao Krung is with a plate of Hoi Tod (Crispy Mussel Pancake). Asian cuisine, including Korean and Chinese, has a history of some version of a scallions pancake, and this version, loaded with steamed fresh mussels, garlic, chives and bean sprouts, and served with sweet chili Sriracha sauce, arrives fried but not greasy. The delicious results can almost stand as a meal in itself.
Kaeng Keiw Wann (Thai Green Curry) has been prepared in a Central Thai-style—that is, a spicy curry with a hint of sweetness made with green chilies from Thailand, kaffir lime, coconut milk, Thai eggplant, bell peppers and giant leaves of sweet basil. I ordered a mild and even this downplayed version had a spicy kick to it, but I appreciate it as it didn’t overwhelm the soup’s contents; a wonderful interplay of cross-firing accents.
The management wanted me to try a plate of what is probably the most universally ordered Thai dish in North America, that is, the immortal Pad Thai—rice noodles stir-fried with tamarind, fish sauce, palm sugar, dried shrimp that are quite large, radishes, egg, garlic, chives, bean sprouts and chunks of baked tofu, with a side of crushed peanuts to sprinkle over this course. The results are solid and reliable; if Pad Thai is what you seek, you’ve come to the right place.
My favorite Chao Krung order is a variation of a fried rice dish that I had never before. By
all means, roll the dice here and order the Khao Pad Pla Kem (Salted Fish Fried Rice), which dices up a white fish in Jasmine rice stir fried with scallions, garlic, egg and Chinese broccoli. The fish notwithstanding, the fried rice and its mix of ingredients is cooked up with that wonderfully smoky flavor.
Presentation of courses here is Instagram-ready, and of course I had to accompany all this razzle-dazzle with a nice glass of Thai Iced Tea, nice and bright orange and perfectly sweetened here.
I would never characterize Chao Krung as a dive-y restaurant, but what it does have is that wonderful, home-grown, made-with-love, mom-and-pop quality; just a dependable, unpretentious Thai restaurant built upon a solid bulwark of family recipes.