It only took me 22 minutes to get to Ayara Thai Cuisine from West Hollywood, a location I normally wouldn’t head unless I was trekking to the airport. Just north of LAX, this hidden Thai gem is probably closer to my home than Jitlada, the Thai restaurant raved about in east LA that specializes in southern Thai food.
In a cute street filled with quaint shops, I made my way to Ayara Thai, known for its home cooked Thai selections with California fresh ingredient flair. There wasn’t even a meter on the road, so parking was a breeze. For 11 years this family-run establishment with its non-fancy exterior and basic interior (although its expanding now with a bar and more seating) has served Angelenos authentic Thai cuisine.
Across from me today sat the family’s 35 year old daughter Vanda Asapahu who arrived in LA at the age of 4, and I was learning over lunch how her boyfriend, brother, mom and dad all run the business. Her mom was the one cooking my meal today while her dad was back in Thailand, but coming back to America soon.
Vanda, with a Master’s Degree from Yale in public policy, decided to come back to LA to help orchestrate the family business. What surprised me the most was how fresh everything tasted. Vanda told me everything is made to order, so the soup I just devoured did not come from a pre-made vat.
Bringing me back to my incredible vacation in Thailand in 2012, I had memories of a 4 hour cooking class on the beach in Koh Lanta where I learned that all Thai dishes include sweet, sour, salty and sometimes hot.
My first course consisted of heaping cold shrimp Spring Rolls stuffed with carrots, green leaf, cucumbers, alfalfa sprouts, egg noodles, and sweet basil leaves wrapped with rice paper that comes with their famous peanut sauce. My favorite Thai soup is the Tom Khah, a rich coconut milk soup with Thai herbs, mushrooms, limes, Thai chili with shrimp, or you can order tofu. Memories eating on the beach in the Phi Phi Islands at a local restaurant flashed back as this soup was just as good as being in Thailand.
The Crab Fried Rice and Pad Thai are a win-win, while the Ka-Pow Pork Belly surprised me with the exceptional flavor combination with spicy chili basil and greens stir fried with thick pieces of crispy pork belly. If you can split a bunch of dishes with friends, make sure to also include the Cu Chee Salmon, an entire melt-in-your-mouth salmon soaked in this creamy broth with broccoli on the side.
Even wines have been added to the menu since a new bar will be coming soon. Indulge in the rare rich and earthy Harrington from Mendocino, California from 80 year old vines or the Precedent, a Chenin Blanc from Lodi, California that offsets spicy dishes with its citrus, green apples, and honeycomb aromas.
My love for fried banana runs deep, especially when done right with a side of honey and coconut ice cream, so I was elated to find a tiny bit of room in my stomach for the warm fried bananas, which included a generous amount. All portions could easily be shared for two or three.
Ayara Thai has Lunch Combo Specials for $10. At 2 PM, this place was busy and patrons continued to arrive while I was there for a few hours. Ayara Thai even has a line of Thai sauces that can be found at hundreds of specialty shops.
The next time you find yourself near LAX airport, pull over. With family recipes and cooking styles passed down through generations, the Asapahu family of Ayara Thai offers a taste of authentic Thai food using the freshest ingredients, with each dish prepared from scratch and enhanced individually by herbs and spices to ensure the boldest, most genuine flavors.