John attacks a catfish carcassFor years I had been hearing about how Renu Nakorn had the best Thai food in L.A. The problem is, it's not really in L.A., it's in Norwalk, and where the hell is that? In fact, I made it to Las Vegas to try the Lotus of Siam twice before I ever got to Norwalk. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that Renu Nakorn is only a few blocks from the 5 freeway, just before the Orange Curtain. It takes only 30 minutes to get there, less than going to Santa Monica or West L.A. from Silver Lake.
Question #1: Was it worth the drive? Definitely. The food is far more flavorful than any Thai town restaurants.
Question #2: Was it as good as Lotus of Siam? No, and the service especially was far inferior to LOS.
Now, on to the food. Eight of us wrangled with the lengthy menu for a while while sipping our assorted Reislings et al. We tried to order several things off the Northern Thai specialties menu in the back, including the jackfruit curry with pork. Jackfruit, as the menu explains, has a similar texture to artichoke hearts, and the curry had an earthy bamboo shoot-tinged funk that tasted exactly like Bangkok street food. I loved the Issan sausages, which the menu compared to andouille. The texture and heat was indeed similar, but lemongrass and cilantro brought a whole other dimension to the sliced sausages. They would have been excellent with the red chile dip, which was a thick pungent paste which could be used as a condiment with the other dishes. I thought the chili chicken wings had been recommended, but neither the chili ones nor the stuffed chicken wings (below), although tasty, were as life-changing as I had remembered from the reviews.
The khao soi -- curry flavored broth with noodles and chicken -- was the best version I've had, with plenty of flavor even though we ordered it medium. The only really incendiary dish we got was the papaya salad, which tasted very freshly made.
Our centerpiece dish was a whole catfish (above) broiled with an amazing green chile relish -- not quite as impressive as the Lotus of Siam whole catfish, but a nice dish for a group, and that relish had a boatload of spicy, sour and garlicky flavors going on. All this fare was pretty light, so we ordered a few more dishes -- excellent spicy sliced beef with Thai round eggplant, again in a sauce that had more layers than the conversation in a Robert Altman movie, and a nice squid larb.
Verdict: Clear, strong and pungent flavors made all the dishes sing. Service unfortunately was nearly non-existent -- they never offered dessert, so we missed the famous coconut ice cream. It's a good thing we had our own corkscrew and wine glasses. Corkage is $5, but I'm not sure whether they charged it or not. The total was $15 each. Located in the mini-mall that time forgot (have a drink at The Lark afterwards if you dare), the restaurant may be moving next year if they wisely decide to tear down that mini-mall. So go now in case they don't reopen right away.
13041 E. Rosecrans Ave.