Talésai Helps Carry on Rich Thai Legacy in Studio City
One of L.A.’s most acclaimed Thai eateries, Night + Market, hails from the multi-generational Yenbamroong family. Over the hill, Chai Yenbamroong carries on the family tradition at Talésai in Studio City
- CategoryEat & Drink
The Yenbamroong family is responsible for some of L.A.’s most popular Thai dining experiences. Their first restaurant, Talésai, opened on the Sunset Strip in 1982 and was the city’s first mainstream Thai eatery—regularly drawing rock stars, celebrities and chefs.
Prakas, the first family member to move here from Thailand, worked as a banker and would take clients out to dinner but didn’t like any food he found as much as his Mom’s. So he brought Vilai over from Thailand, and together they opened Talésai. Two Yenbamroong-helmed restaurants—Cafe Talésai and Si Laa—followed in Beverly Hills.
The biggest success arose in 2010 when Vilai’s grandson (and Prakas’ son) Kris carved off a section of the West Hollywood restaurant for a Thai street food emporium named Night + Market. The highly personal concept became part of the national conversation and now spans three L.A. locations.
Night + Market ultimately phased out the original Talésai entirely, though Kris still incorporates classic Talésai dishes in West Hollywood. His uncle, Chai, carries on the bulk of Vilai’s beloved dishes at the last remaining Talésai in Studio City.
Chai grew up north of Bangkok and spent more than five years working at Talésai’s original Sunset Strip outpost before opening the Studio City branch in 1992 with the same menu. Vilai taught his wife, Noi, to cook, and she remains the chef at their stylish art-lined restaurant with white tablecloths, black banquettes and central circular bar, which is something of a classic.
Hidden Treasures is still one of Talésai’s best known dishes, cooked in an eight-compartment clay vessel typically used for khanom khrok, sweet coconut rice pancakes. Each colorful blue-and-white lid hides a cache of shrimp, shredded blue crab and bay scallop in chili coconut sauce topped with dab of coconut milk and fragrant Thai basil chiffonade.
Chai is decisive with recommendations. Ask about Heavenly BBQ Chicken with plum sauce and he’ll steer you toward special Jidori chicken wings instead. Free-range drumettes and wingettes are battered, fried until crispy and slathered in tangy spicy tamarind sauce.
We inquired about Red Devil with wide rice noodles, chilies, bell peppers, mint, egg and shrimp, and he countered with drunken noodles with short rib from the specials menu. He’s also enamored with whole fried branzino in “three flavor” sauce that balances sour, spicy and sweet. Other enduring specialties include eggplant tossed with sliced jalapeños (seeds, stems and all), red bell pepper, Thai basil and black bean sauce.
Pad Thai is made dozens of different ways across Thailand. In Chai’s hometown, this rice noodle dish incorporated green mango, dried shrimp instead of fresh, garlic chives instead of scallions and a side of fibrous banana blossoms. At Talésai you’ll find a version with egg, bean sprouts, ground roasted peanuts and a choice of chicken, shrimp, seafood or vegetables.
Chai feels a distinct connection to regulars—the longtime relationships he’s forged over the past 26 years. For instance, Talésai has long been in lunch rotations for many TV writing staffs. He’s seen many production assistants pick up orders and go on to have successful writing careers.
The restauranteur still enjoys meeting customers and seeing these types of progressions, adding, “People are dating, then they get married, then they have kids and then the kids are taller than me.”
While Talésai may not garner the press that other family eateries receive, his recipe for success will remain intact. “A lot of people tell me to change to Night + Market,” he says, “but I love my mother’s cooking.”
11744 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, 818-753-1001
Mendocino Farms’s new flagship outpost, located in the old McDonald’s spot, offers a fried chicken sandwich, a curated wine list and premium craft beer.