For some of the best Thai cooking in Los Angeles, follow the scent of grilled meat and the sounds of sizzling coconut pancakes to Chinatown. While everyone knows that Thai Town in East Hollywood is a haven for terrific Thai restaurants, for many Thai Angelenos it’s all about Lax-C. This sprawling warehouse complex provides bulk essentials for every Thai pantry. Beyond racks of fish sauce, jugs of palm sugar, and aisles filled with every type of canned curry paste imaginable, the two-decade-old “Thai Costco,” as loyal customers affectionately call it, also hosts food vendors cooking up exceptional Thai for hungry shoppers. Two of the food vendors — Mae Ting’s Coconut Cakes and Phuket noodle stand — are weekend pop-ups, while a third situated within the warehouse itself, Lax-C BBQ Express, operates daily.
On Saturdays and Sundays, Mae Ting sets up her makeshift stall directly across the busy parking lot from Lax-C’s entrance. She was the first vendor to sell along the massive emporium’s perimeter over 15 years ago. Her specialty is kanom krok, bite-sized coconut pudding pancakes topped with a choice of green onions, corn, or foi thong, Portuguese-inspired egg yolk threads that provide ample sweetness.
As word of Ting’s outstanding coconut pancakes spread through the Thai community nearly a decade ago, she expanded offerings to include smoky pork and chicken skewers and sour Isan sausage. She prepares the proteins on a grill in front of her stall, the wafting aroma beckoning customers. The meats are accompanied by a serving of sticky rice and som tam (papaya salad). She offers customized spice levels and a choice between the sweet and nutty Thai-style papaya salad and the funkier Lao-style, which includes fermented fish sauce and pickled crab.
“I want people who visit to feel like they are getting a true taste of Thailand, like this is home,” Ting says. Dusty posters of traditional Thai dancers that hang across the cash register and an adjacent altar featuring Nang Kwak (a goddess of luck believed to bring in customers) resonate with the local Thai community. For those looking to enjoy a bit of Ting’s cooking in their own kitchens, she offers an array of shelf-stable goods, including deep-fried vermicelli crackers and dried anchovies.
Next to Mae Ting’s is the Phuket noodle stand, a rickety operation set under a sheet metal roof and attached pop-up tent that houses three picnic tables for dining, a large split stockpot divided into bubbling broth and boiling water for blanching noodles, and a display case full of Thai treats. For the past decade, Annie Kul has served $10 bowls of fiery tom yum noodle soup famous for its yellowtail fish balls, imported from Phuket.
“My fish balls are like nowhere else’s because they’re pure yellowtail with no flour added,” Kul says. The bouncy fish balls are served in a pork bone broth with thin rice noodles, crushed peanuts, fried fish ball wontons, ground pork, and a crown of bean sprouts and green onions. Kul also sells trays of fried yellowtail fish balls with a sweet chile dipping sauce. For dessert, she prepares pan-fried pang jee. The glutinous rice cakes are flecked with corn, coconut flakes, and purple sweet potato. Bags of crispy coconut rolls are available to take home.
Visitors can also head inside to Lax-C BBQ Express — the only food operation directly affiliated with the warehouse and located indoors — for an array of lunch combos that begin at $9 and include a rotating menu of curries, stir-fries, salads, and stews served with jasmine rice. The larb, with streaks of red Thai chiles and slivers of shallots, is a popular option. All the hot foods that populate the bar are prepared on-site, while some packaged desserts including steamed tapioca layer cakes, sticky rice tamales stuffed with bananas and taro, and mung bean rice crepes are imported from Thailand. Thai tea is available alongside sweetened chrysanthemum tea and longan juice filled with chilled grass jelly. A small number of worn booths and tables are available for dining in, but more often people take food to go.
Lax-C BBQ Express also provides scratch-made Thai food essentials to take home; the refrigerator next to the hot bar is filled with freshly pounded curry pastes and chile dips. For a cost-effective homemade meal, serve the chile paste with runny fried eggs and steamed white rice. The young green chile dip (nam prik num) pairs well with steamed vegetables and pork rinds, while the roasted red chile jam (nam prik pao) is a catchall dip for cooking and even spreading on toast.
While Lax-C didn’t have an on-site kitchen churning out hot foods or weekend vendors when it opened in 2000, these culinary amenities have since become an essential fixture for the grocer’s employees and the surrounding Chinatown community. Even the residents of Thai Town in East Hollywood know that a visit to Lax-C is a necessity for not only replenishing their pantries, but their stomachs and spirits as well.