If Hollywood's Thai Town has a center, it is the bustling block of Thailand Plaza. The two-story Plaza houses not only a restaurant, but is home to a Thai bookstore and a giant, well-stocked grocery. Thailand Plaza is easily identifiable by its elaborately decorated shrine to the Thai Buddha of four faces. Off to the side stands a spirit house, meant to entice spirits to take up residence. The idea is they will be so distracted they will not be tempted to move into your house. Just adjacent to Thailand Plaza is a square called "Thai Town Plaza". This plaza has a truly happening restaurant row. It is anchored by Ruen Thai, the ritzy Red Corner Asia, and dessert shop Bhan Kanom. In the corner stands Thai Patio, the location that once housed Palms Thai (which has relocated to 5900 Hollywood, taking Thai Elvis with them). Hiding inauspiciously in the corner is the easily overlooked Ganda.
Right now the foodies may be singing the praises of North Hollywood as the Thai mecca du jour, but LAist is all about loyalty, and we still love Thai Town, forever and always.
The "official" boundaries of Thai Town stretch between Western and Normandie on Hollywood Blvd. That's not much room to stretch, really, so the Thai restaurants have spread out towards the 101 Hollywood freeway and Vermont, spilling over to Sunset as they continue their outward diaspora.
In addition to their geographical boundaries, Thai restaurants in Hollywood are stretching their culinary boundaries as well. From Thai Express, the most basic corner stand sporting a hot dog on the roof, to the upscale Red Corner Asia, these neighborhood restaurants are serving a diverse clientele. Chefs are exploring Chinese fusion at Chuan Chim, Shabu Shabu at Hollywood Thai Cuisine, and even giving Thai food a latino spin over at Vim (pronounced Wim). One can still find comfort in the safety of pad thai, or head over to Palms for some serious boar curry. From noodle houses to grills, from little bakeries to Thai snow cone shops, the choices are endless. So let's go thai one on!
Starting in the heart of Thai Town, Ganda's generous buffet-style steam trays lure me inside. The decor is hip and exotic. If this restaurant were anywhere but the heart of Thai town, it would have your friends asking in awe, "How did you FIND this place?
One side of the restaurant contains a little shop of Thai goods. The centerpiece of the restaurant is the large steam table that overflows with a feast of enticing dishes. Only about half of them are recognizable, which only adds to my excitement. No one speaks much English, which I also take as a very good sign.
You can also order from a menu, but the steam table was too exciting to pass up. The curries immediately drew me in. They were not limited to the usual green, yellow, red and massaman. There were at least 8 different curry dishes. I recognized the fringe of tripe in one of them, and fish balls in another.
I pointed at a deep red curry and a green curry brimming with some unfamiliar vegetable. It was similar to collard greens, or kale, but much tougher. I was finally able to identify it as cassia leaves. Thai curries are so complex and intense it is often difficult for the palate to differentiate individual ingredients. No single flavor should dominate. When cooked correctly, the flavors of a curry should meld into a complex symphony. And Ganda was definitely playing my song. The red curry contained only tender beef, with no vegetables or fillers. The curry paste was thick, like a panang, and the dish nicely combined richness and heat. Another 3-star spicy dish for sure.
Ganda successfully balanced the basic flavors of Thai cooking: hot (spicy), sour, sweet, and salty. Actually, it was pretty heavily balanced towards the spicy. The fiery curries were stimulating in small doses, but I'm sure they could become dare-worthy pretty quickly. In Thai, you can ask them for something not so spicy with the phrase mai phet (not spicy) or mai sai prik (do not put in chilis). (www.realthai.blogspot.com).
Combo plates from the steam table come with 2 or 3 selections, plus steamed rice. For my third selection I chose kunchaing, an interesting-looking sausage that had caught my eye the second we walked in the door. Referred to as "Chinese sausage", the Chinese lettering on the package actually says "Taiwanese sausage" and it is made in Whittier. It is much denser than the usual sai krok. It is like a dense polska kielbasa, bordering on a salami. The sausage was unusually sweet, yet it was not cloying or unpleasant. It was as if a delicate sweet syrup had been brushed on it as it cooked.
The spicy mint-leaf chicken ordered from the menu was a nice foil to the spiciness and actually cooled things down. The wide rice noodles were soft and slippery without being greasy. I was pleasantly surprised by the addition of long beans and straw mushrooms. It is definitely comfort food, and exactly the kind of thing you would want to eat if you had a cold.
Like many places in Thai Town, Ganda accepts cash only. Luckily there are two ATMs in the plaza. Also, like many of the places in the plaza, they stay open until 2 o'clock in the morning. The place was staffed entirely by women, and they were all welcoming and amiable in spite of the language barrier.
Although I am drawn to the bright lights and elegant vibe of Thailand Hollywood Plaza's other restaurants, I think I will be sticking with Ganda for awhile.
(When I asked for the restrooms, the server handed me a tiny little bucket. I stared at her. She stared at me. I looked at the bucket, and I looked back at her. She laughed and pointed to the key that was attached to the bucket. This place wasn't THAT exotic).
5269 Hollywood Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90027-4912