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Thursday 20 February 2020

Kim Thai Food ขันทองสองฝั่งโขง


EDITOR'S NOTE: An updated version of this article (12 January 2024) is available as part of the Historical section of our Substack page. Check that out here:
In the front of La Fiesta Swap Meet there are posters with hints of Persian kebabs and Salvadoran pupusas, but no mention of the stall named "Kim Thai Food" in English. For that, walk through the main entrance and all the way to the back, where a small food court of sorts exists. Next to those aforementioned stands are also a new Jamaican vendor and some ice cream.

The Thai name (Kan Tong Song Fung Khong) is actually more telling of what you will find on the menu here, the last three words of which translate as "both sides of the river." For a Thai restaurant, this is usually describing the Mekong River which separates the northern provinces of Thailand with Laos. The kitchen is ready to churn out specialties from both sides.

Make your way past clothing, hat, and shoe vendors, past sleepy workers watching movies on their phones, walls full of veladoras, and the many barbers and salons in La Fiesta to sit down for a spicy feast. "Kan Tong" is the name of the original owner of the stall, who went by the nickname Kim. No matter what language you prefer, an exciting meal is on the way.

This meal started with a delicious plate of naem khao tod ($10, above), which immediately went to the top of the power rankings with the one at Vientiane down in Garden Grove. In addition to the rice cooked with curry paste and sour sausage, they include peanuts and roasted chili peppers. Freshly chopped up ginger seemingly pervades each and every bite in such a good way.

As lunchtime came, so did many Thai people, mostly getting takeout to bring back home or to their office. While Thai Town is well known in East Hollywood and full of great restaurants, by the 1990's a lot of the Thai community was finding its way to the other side of the Hollywood sign and settling this part of the Valley. Spots like Kim Thai Food have been much loved for a long time, even when not part of most conversations when speaking in languages other than Thai.

It was noticed that absolutely everything was made fresh to order here, giving each and every bite a real crispness. Even the fried pork skin garnish to the larb bpet (above), a minced duck salad that started bringing the real heat, was lowered into the fryer after asking for the dish. All the right parts were here to make this fantastic; insides, toasted sticky rice, and of course more of those roasted chili peppers that seem to be a signature of the chef.

You can usually get a sense of what spice levels are standard in a restaurant from initial conversations with a chef about heat. Here at Kim getting a nice bead of sweat going did not seem like something that would be a problem, and it was suggested that even medium levels would do the trick. This is in fact true, and you can mix in pieces of fresh cabbage, herbs, and cucumbers to help relieve yourself when necessary.

Continuing in the theme of freshly prepared plates, the familiar sounds of green papaya salad being prepared only got started after this order of som tum lao (above), a Lao-style version that omits the sugars more beloved on the other side of the river and focuses on the salty and funky. It was definitely the most spicy of the three, a required quality for successful som tum.

The skill that the kitchen prepared all three of these dishes makes many return trips now necessary to explore the rest of the quite large menu. In addition to Lao soups and grilled and sweetened meat skewers, it can probably be assumed that more standard dishes like stir-fried noodles should be excellent as well.

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