When Pam Zoobharasee isn't prepping dishes like the bulb-shaped Thai sausage saiy ooah, she runs the front of house at Khaosan Thai Street Food, a new Woodland Hills restaurant that opened in early April. During my visit, she wore a blue denim jacket and Thai bandanna, coasting around the dining room with a smile and offering waiting customers dishes of fruit like kiwis, grapes, citrus, and bananas. It's a gesture that's typical of the warmth she and business partner Naiyana "Judy" Timsuren display.
Beyond the glass front of the West Valley restaurant, you'll find shiny banquettes and unfinished wood tables, red walls, a high peaked wood roof, and framed photos of Bangkok's tuk tuks and floating markets. No music plays.
Interest in street food has never been higher in L.A., though most vendors tend to tilt towards Mexico and Latin America. In Woodland Hills, the two women draw on childhood experiences to deliver flavorful Thai street food to a part of West Valley that doesn't have much in the way of standout Thai cuisine.
Spooned with tangy tamarind sauce, showered with fried shallots, and finished with cilantro
Zoobharasee and Timsuren have developed a varied menu that's by no means encyclopedic, though soups, salads, noodles, curries, and entrees are the five primary categories. That said, some of the most interesting dishes qualify as starters.
Kaiy loui cuuy ($4) features two deep-fried, hard-boiled eggs sliced in half, spooned with tangy tamarind sauce, showered with fried shallots, and finished with cilantro.
Oftentimes, Chiang Mai-style saiy ooah ($6) is crafted from pork. At Khaosan, spicy grilled chicken sausages are studded with lemongrass, Kaffir lime, and herbs. Each order comes with crunchy cabbage, raw ginger, and cilantro to counter the fatty meat. Zoobharasee made the sausage earlier that day, so the skins seemed to display some extra snap.
Zoobharasee is from Chiang Mai and grew up in Bangkok while Timsuren hails from Pattaya beach, a couple hours south of Bangkok. They craved the cooking of their hometowns, and finding no existing restaurants matched their memories, they opened Khaosan to experience those dishes again.
Meanwhile, there's no faulting the fried chicken. Gaiy tohd ($6) features boneless chunks of dark meat marinated in Khaosan sauce, a savory blend of soy sauce, dark soy sauce, and oyster sauce. Dip each nugget in sweet chile dipping sauce.
You may recognize soups like khao soi but curried crab stir-fry is a bit more unusual
You may recognize soups like khao soi or thohm yum, and Zoobharasee recommended both bowls, but curried crab stir-fry ($12) is a bit more unusual. Snow crab meat and claws are tossed with a yellow slurry made with curry powder and cumin. Egg, coconut milk, sliced white and green onion, celery, bell pepper, and jalapeño help to round out the dish with texture, sweetness, and heat.
If you're looking for a more straight-forward noodle dish, signature Khaosan noodles ($8) feature pan-fried rice noodles wok-tossed with thin soy sauce, Sriracha, eggs, and bean sprouts. The dish is plated with crumbled peanuts on a lettuce bed.
To drink, skip Thai iced coffee or tea in favor of off-menu Thai tea lemonade ($3). This drink, which arrived in a flowery heart Mason jar, is basically a Thai Arnold Palmer with sweet tea and fresh lime juice that pairs well with spicy food.
For dessert, consider loh thee ($3) flaky coiled roti bread drizzled with sweetened condensed milk and plated with fresh fruit. If you're looking to dial up the funk, consider durian sticky rice glazed with sweetened coconut milk. A version that subs in mango is far milder.
When we were getting ready to leave, a curious customer asked Zoobharasee about a dish he saw on a man's sidewalk table. She told him that he saw whitefish in garlic sauce. He asked her to point the dish out on the menu, but it wasn't there. She said, "Anything you like, tell us what you want and we'll make it for you." Khaosan clearly doesn't skimp on hospitality.
Khaosan Thai Street Food, 19801 Ventura Blvd., Woodland Hills, 818.932.9845, www.eatkhaosanthai.com