I decided to take my first foray into the L.A. Thai food
scene this past weekend, and the experience confirmed my long-held suspicion that I had delayed
this trip for far too long. For a while, it felt like it was acceptable to fend
off a Thai craving with the likes of Bua Thai, but I hardened my resolve, ignored
the exits on the 10-W that promised an awesome Chinese and/or Vietnamese
meal and arrived at Renu Nakorn, an unassuming Northern Thai restaurant in
Norwalk. Unassuming or not, Renu Nakorn was created by the owners of Lotus of
Siam in Las Vegas, which is supposedly one of the best Thai places in North
The debate for the best Thai in
L.A. mostly ranges between Renu Nakorn and Jitlada, which I plan on visiting for
a later column. I chose to go for Renu Nakorn first, mostly because of its
promise of regional specialties that I’d never tried. Northern flavors bring a
kick that is unique to the region. A mouthful of Renu Nakorn’s larb koong will make pad thai seem
depressingly bland. I don’t mean to take a shot at pad thai, because it’s pretty good. There’s a reason why everybody from Dallas to Bangkok likes it.
My hope, though, is that by offering you a look at Renu Nakorn, you’ll find a taste of
Thailand that is, unfortunately, absent from most Thai menus in America.
I did, for the record, order pad
thai ($7.59), and it was predictably good. But I had come for Northern Thai
food, so I went straight from there to the menu items I would never find in Claremont: an
incredibly good Thai beef jerky, a fiery version of steak tartar, catfish larb and roast duck curry. Unfortunately, the number of “menu items I would never find
in Claremont” extended to about 90 (literally). So I settled for the
aforementioned choices and regrettably turned down trying the spicy jackfruit
curry, northern-style sausage and green chili dip.
I had plenty of food to distract me
from the disappointment of not being able to try every dish. The catfish larb ($8.95) was the first to come out. Larb
is the quintessential northern dish: onion, green peppers, harb spices and
lime. A fair warning: Renu Nakorn is authentic, so when a dish is supposed to
be spicy, it truly will be. I was expecting that, but I decided to go ahead and
order everything spicy anyway, since that’s how it’s typically served in
Thailand. I thought it was great, but my sister was giving me angry glares for
the rest of the meal as her cheeks turned progressively redder. The northern
larb ($6.95) was even better. As opposed to the Issan style of the dish, the
regional larb focuses more on the spices and has no lime.
The best dish of the night may have
been the koi soy ($6.95), raw pieces
of finely cut beef rolled in copious amounts of chili spice and onions. The
blend between the citrus, chili and herbs is outstanding. If you let it settle
in your fridge for a day, the flavors sink in and make it spicy enough to clear
your head with a bite. The runner-up dish was roast duck curry ($8.59). The duck
meat goes surprisingly well with coconut milk, and the curry itself was
flavorful and light.
Renu Nakorn is a bit far from Claremont, but don’t let that
turn you off if you’re itching for solid Thai food. Your stomach will thank you
Renu Nakorn. 13041 East Rosecrans
Avenue, Norwalk, CA 90650.