LA’s profound scope of incredible Thai restaurants is no secret. Places like Jitlada and Night + Market are among the most recognizable restaurant names in the city. Others, like Luv2Eat, Ruen Pair and Sapp Coffee Shop have cult followings that make K-Pop fans look like they’re half-assing it. At times, it feels as if there couldn’t possibly be room for more greatness. But now that Holy Basil in Downtown LA has come along, we’ve been reminded that there’s always room for another place to shift the conversation.
Everything about Holy Basil, a tiny takeout window inside a Downtown food court, is straightforward, particularly the menu. It’s filled with pad thai, green curry, and tom yum soup - all things that can be found on plenty of Thai menus around town. But to eat at Holy Basil, is like trying them for the first time. Every dish is herbaceous, pungent, and unabashedly spicy. It’s this complexity of flavor that once made me drop my fork after a single bite of drunken noodles and double-check my receipt to make sure I ordered the right thing. The noodles, simultaneously chewy and soft, have been wok-fried with xo sauce for a powerful umami flavor. Add in the crispy pork belly with its texture and crunch, and you have a version of pad kee mao that threatens to ruin any other you’ve ever eaten.
Holy Basil is home to the most exciting new Thai food in LA. Chef Wedchayan (Deau) Arpapornnopparat, and partner Tongkamal (Joy) Yuon, have created a tight operation that’s both unique and accessible, in a casual environment that allows you to either pick-up your food or quickly order at the window. Eventually, tables will inhabit the food court’s shared space, but for now, this pandemic-born operation has kept things as stream-lined as possible.
If you want to dive deeper into the dishes and flavors that inspire Deau and his menu, be sure to check out Yum, Holy Basil’s monthly dinner series that focuses on Bangkok-style street food, like raw blue crab and whole branzino with fermented chopped chili. And then do what I do, and return immediately to Holy Basil for more. I might still be learning Blackpink’s dance choreography, but I certainly know my order at Holy Basil.
This is the best tom yum soup I’ve ever eaten. Filled with shrimp, oyster mushrooms, roasted chili jam, lemongrass, lime leaf, galangal, and cilantro, it’s an absolute whirlwind of flavors and textures, and a soup that I plan my week around… every week.
The thing that stands out most about this green curry is how thick it is. The paste itself is almost gravy-like, with subtle notes of spice courtesy of the sweet basil and bird’s eye chili. The jidori chicken also gives off a slight smokiness that cuts through the sweetness perfectly.
Topped with a fried egg, this wok-fired ground beef dish is admittedly not the easiest to transport long distances for takeout, but that just gives you an even better excuse to eat in your car when you pick it up.
Holy Basil’s pad thai is unlike any I’ve ever had. It’s sweet and slightly sour from the tamarind fish paste. The slightly-chewy pan fried rice noodles are cooked perfectly, and don’t overpower the subtle sweetness of the dish.
This dish is identical to the gra pow neuh except that instead of ground beef, it comes topped with pork belly. And for that reason alone, you need to order it. The pork belly itself is crispy, tender, and just the right amount of salty. It pairs quite well with the bitter greens underneath.