August 15, 2007

In loving memory of Wat Thai

Wat Thai Temple North Hollywood, CA

I caught wind of Wat Thai's closing on the Chowhound boards and resolved to make it to what has been called LA's most authentic Thai food on its last weekend. My resolve was so strong that I even cut my San Francisco trip short to check it out.

My mom had cautioned me against wearing shorts and/or tank tops since I wouldn't normally be allowed to step foot in a temple so scantily clad. She failed to realize that this was the tragically hip LA and that the food stands only operate under the auspices of a religious institution--but come on now, we all know they're there to make a profit.

We were pretty distraught at first, since the compound was pretty deserted from where we had entered. A sigh of relief quickly overcame us at the first sight of civilization crowned under a pretty blue tent. While some were there for prayer, we were certainly there only to worship the gods responsible for the fiery curries, sweet satays, and pungent salads of Thai cuisine.

The currency of choice here is not the Baht, but instead tokens purchased in denominations of $.50, $1, and $2, which account for the majority of the under $5 dishes. The most expensive thing we got was the $5 mango with sticky rice, which is cut-to-order and as good as any mango-sticky rice I've ever gotten.

Hands down, the best dish was the Papaya Salad, which was proclaimed the best we've had yet. The sweet, sour, and spicy notes were perfectly balanced, while the salted crabs gave it a unique twist.

We also tried the Noodles, Fried Eggs, and Pad Thai from another vendor down the way. The noodles was just too hot to enjoy in the steamy valley and while I've had better pad thai for $.50 from a street stall in Thailand, this wasn't half bad. I ordered the eggs because they reminded me of Vietnamese bot chien, which is mostly made of rice cakes. Turns out my Thai dish was mostly made of fried eggs which were tossed with clams and served with a mild sauce that tasted like ketchup. It was okay, though I didn't want to finish the entire tray.

There were two booths selling satay, so we bought an order of chicken from each to compare them side-by-side. Americanized Thai food has taught us the Chicken Satay is normally dressed with peanut butter, when in reality all that satay really designates is a meat that grilled on a skewer. Both versions were smoky and tender with the difference in flavor (one was slightly spicier) being only a matter of preference.

One of the more interesting dishes were the Chicken Dumplings ($3), which were scented with peanuts and coconut. The skins were gummy and thin, which I enjoyed, though the filling was too sweet for a savory course.

Speaking of sweets, we also tried these crunchy wafer-like tacos, which were filled with various forms of coconut. A bit too sweet for my taste. Beverages were lacking with mediocre Thai teas, coconut juices and a logan juice that was decent at best.

I made the mistake of saving curries for last and was just too stuffed to eat another thing. It was a fun experience and it reminded me of Berkeley's own Thai Temple--an institution all on its own. It was good spending time with the family and if you've got some time on your hands, sign the petition to keep the weekend food stalls up and running!

Wat Thai Temple
12909 Cantara St
North Hollywood, CA 91605
(818) 780-4200

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