If you love Thai food, you'll enjoy a weekend trip to Wat Thai. This 50-year-old Buddhist temple in Sun Valley has been hosting its very own street food market for decades. Every Saturday and Sunday, about fifteen different vendors pop-up outside the stunning building and serve some of the best food we’ve ever eaten out of styrofoam containers.
A quick turn into the temple parking lot and you’ll easily find the food stalls. Each one is lined up around a sea of communal tables, with a unique menu of Thai specialties. If you’re in the mood for BBQ skewers, just follow the smell of grilled meats to the vendor handing out charred pork on a stick. Craving some khao soi? Step right up to the booth that’s stewing vats of fragrant coconut curry. You could eat here three times in the same month, and have three completely different meals without feeling like you’ve done it all before.
Wat Thai’s food court is cash-only. But you’ll need to exchange your money for $1 tokens first, then use those tokens to buy as much Thai street food as you can handle. Most dishes cost between $7-$12, which makes this the perfect occasion to use that emergency $20 bill sitting in your glove box. And a portion of every dollar you spend goes toward the upkeep of this massive Thai Buddhist temple, which happens to be the oldest in the country. The only catch is that this outdoor market gets crowded on weekend afternoons, so get here before 12pm when vendors start selling out of more popular dishes.
It's best to come here planning to share everything, starting with snacks—like spicy papaya salad, taro-stuffed coconut pancakes, or crispy, fried banana fritters. From there, choose your own adventure. Most of the vendors offer the kinds of entrees you’d find at any neighborhood Thai restaurant, just turned up several notches. The boat noodles soak in a rich, dark brown broth with glistening bits of stewed beef and meatballs that float to the top of the bowl. There’s a fermented pork salad full of sour sausage chunks tossed in a bowl of crispy rice that smells like lime peel. And the glossy pad thai with plump shrimp makes other versions we've had taste like they’re missing something.
Whatever you choose, you’ll spend a majority of your time hanging out at picnic tables covered in some of the very best Thai food in LA. So instead of driving to three restaurants to hunt down great mango sticky rice, Thai BBQ, or som tum, just head straight to Wat Thai and order a bit of everything.
One of the most popular stalls at Wat Thai's food court is the skewer stand. They sell everything from beef and grilled pork to chicken liver and gizzards on a stick. They're all juicy and perfectly tender, but you will probably need to arrive before 12pm if you plan on trying one before they sell out.
The crispy, all-over crust on these fried bananas is incredible, especially considering how soft they are inside. Each order is coated in caramel sauce and feels like a steal at $3 a pop.
Fermented Pork Salad
Even with so many other options, we order this meaty "salad" on every visit. It's a mash-up of deep-fried rice balls coated in red curry paste, crushed up with herbs and sprinkled with pink twists of salty-sour fermented pork sausage.
This is a very good (and very spicy) papaya salad. Underneath the heat, there's a balanced layer of sweet (palm sugar), salty (fish sauce) and sour (lime), plus some peanuts on the side for crunch.
Boat Noodle Soup
Stocked with spongy meatballs, tender beef, and strands of thin rice noodles, the fragrant beef broth in this dish tastes it's been slow-cooking for days.
There are usually two stalls at Wat Thai serving pad thai, but we prefer the one on the left-hand side near the food court entrance. Seasoned with just the right ration of fish sauce and soy sauce, the glossy noodles hold up under well after bring stir-fried and maintain their pleasant chewiness.
Duck Noodle Soup
This hearty rice noodle soup is the perfect one-bowl meal for foggy days at Wat Thai. It arrives piping hot with tender duck, which is delicious, but you’ll barely even notice the meat once you taste the bold, garlicky broth.