Before he became known for misanthropic rants, George Carlin was an observational comedian who once wondered: “Where is the blue food?” As it turns out, Southeast Asia has had blue food for ages. Considering that L.A. has such a great Thai restaurant scene, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there’s a place that serves two dishes that are decidedly blue.
At Chiang Mai Urban Thai Kitchen, a small restaurant in Valley Village that replaced Inthanon Thai while staying in the same family, the menu features a drink and a dessert made using the butterfly pea flower. The bright blue flower, long popular for making a natural dye, also serves as a natural food coloring. The anchan drink is a tea (tisane) made from infusing the petals. A sight to behold when placed on the table, it truly is a deep blue to blue-violet. Another interesting property is its chameleonlike ability to change color depending on what's added to it. Squeezing some lime into the drink turns it purple. Expectedly, the drink has a floral taste, as light — if not lighter — than lavender.
The other blue item is sticky rice, served with either mango (when in season) or egg custard. The owners grow the butterfly pea flowers in their backyard and tell us they are popular in Thailand but aren’t easy to grow here. Traditional medicine also ascribes many benefits to use of the flowers.
There’s much more to Chiang Mai Urban Thai Kitchen than a couple of uniquely photogenic dishes. Owners Angie Palawong and Linda Thongkam, along with the latter's brother, chef Thom Thongkam, have family roots in Chiang Mai. Palawong’s mother operated Inthanon Thai until she decided to retire, leaving Palawong and the Thongkam siblings in charge of the renamed and remodeled restaurant. Named for Chiang Mai, the largest city in Northern Thailand, the restaurant features a small menu of Northern Thai specialties.
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Perhaps most prominent on the menu is khao soi, the coconut curry noodle soup that traditionally uses chicken. At Chiang Mai, one can get it with a drumstick or white meat, as well as other meats, shrimp or tofu. Being the Northern Thai version, tomato is balanced with the coconut, lending a less sweet but far more nuanced flavor to the broth. There’s also tum ka noon, spicy young jackfruit salad, served with tomatoes and redolent with garlic. Another regional dish is ka nom jeen nam ngiew, a spicy, tomato-based vermicelli noodle soup that's loaded with pork — spare ribs, ground pork and blood cubes.
The restaurant also serves sai aou, a Northern Thai sausage, as well as both Thai and Lao versions of papaya salad. With dishes like these, Chiang Mai Urban Thai Kitchen is easily one of the best options for regional Thai in the San Fernando Valley and really anywhere outside of Thai Town. Come for the Instagram-friendly blue food, stay (and return) for the Northern Thai specialties.
A big shout-out to colleague Josh Lurie (Food GPS) for bringing both the change from Inthanon Thai and the anchan drink to our attention.
Chiang Mai Urban Thai Kitchen, 12510 Burbank Blvd., Valley Village; (818) 763-9877, Chiangmaicnx.com.