One Bite in Bangkok: Los Angeles’ First Thai Food Festival

All the flavors of Thailand in a day.

It was the ideal Southern California day to take a culinary trip to Thailand via Jet without ever leaving the ground. The culinary trip was the first ever Thai Food Festival in Los Angeles, and the Jet I metaphorically speak of is really L.A.’s celebrated celebrity chef Jet Tila.  

Tila was recently endorsed as the first-ever Thai Culinary Ambassador by the Thai Consul-General in Los Angeles. Naturally he was the person to seek out when the Thai Trade Center in L.A. needed a chef-host for the Thai Food Festival.

Tila’s family opened Bangkok Market, the first Thai grocery store in the U.S. back in 1972. Acting as the unofficial “mayor” of Thai Town before Thai food and culture were well-established, Tila spread the gospel of Thai heritage and cuisine to anyone who would listen and was willing to taste the sometimes incendiary entrees. He recruited high profile taste makers from the likes of Anthony Bourdain to the late Huell Howser to effectively communicate Thailand’s edible treasures right here in L.A.

Yesterday’s festival was a culinary culmination of the many decades of Thai influence in our city’s restaurant scene. Los Angeles Thai restaurant luminaries—from Jitlada to Night+Market—served up southern Thailand and Isaan dishes, respectively. And considering there was only about a couple of dozen food stalls, the restaurant reach was broad as well, ranging from Northridge’s Lum Ka Naad to Lucky Elephant based in San Dimas.

Center stage was reserved for a roster of celebrity chefs who either focus primarily in Thai cuisine or have practiced the style in a masterful way. These chefs included: Tila, Kris Yenbamroong (Night+Market), Andy Ricker (Pok Pok, Portland), Susan Feniger (Street), Kajsa Alger (Street), David LeFevre (MB Post & Fishing with Dynamite), and Sang Yoon (Lukshon & Father’s Office). Celebrity chefs Curtis Stone (Top Chef Masters) and Evan Kleiman (KCRW’s Good Food) moderated a panel on the rise of Thai cuisine today.

The food, like the festival itself, was well curated and balanced. For the adventurous, there were freshly breached durian fruit and Sang Yoon’s “Reimagined Thai Beef Salad” made with cow tongue. The more timid palate enjoyed “Jade Noodles” from Sapp Coffee Shop and sweet coconut and taro fritters created by Bhan Kanom Thai. And if you no longer had any use for your tongue, you’d consume the plate of fiery dry curry chicken at Jitlada. In other words, there was something for everyone. ‘Til next year!