In 2008, Panadda Chayapark— a 60-year-old Thai grandmother and retired funk singer — felt that her life in Bangkok was a bore. Then she got an offer from a longtime friend to come to L.A. and join the Hoy-Ka team as a partner. She had been to the States a multitude of times over the years; her daughter worked for an international airline, and she enjoyed staying in the States for six-month stretches.
In the eight years since then, Chayapark has operated three L.A. Thai restaurants.
Chayapark's singing career lasted throughout the 1960s and '70s, with multiple album credits. But she says her Chinese-Thai in-laws simply couldn't deal with her nighttime hours as a singer. They didn’t want her out after dark because they believed only "women of the night" worked after sunset. She became a housewife and went on to raise a family, and she turned her passion to food. She fell in love with Bangkok’s culinary scene.
A couple of years into Chayapark’s newfound career in L.A., the first Hoy-Ka partnership dissolved, with one team opening the Original Hoy-Ka Hollywood and Chayapark parting ways with them. The original Hoy-Ka chef departed as well. The new Hoy Ka chefs would eventually go on to open the celebrated Luv2Eat Thai Bistro in November 2014.
Chayapark says that after the Hoy-Ka partnership dissolved, she was twiddling her thumbs, with her son constantly asking her to return to Bangkok. In late 2010, a new opportunity presented itself in the San Gabriel Valley; she partnered with Monterey Park’s Hoy Ka in late 2010, taking boat noodles into the West SGV for the first time.
The restaurant offered Lao and Thai dishes, and Chayapark says the Lao side of the menu suffered from poor ingredient substitution and amateur execution. The hoy ka “dangling leg” Thai noodle items, on the other hand, remained solid, Chayapark says, because she brought on Hoy-Ka’s original chef, and he brought his hoy ka boat noodle recipes. In the end, the restaurant fell into disrepair, and Chayapark retreated back into retirement in Rosemead.
But she just could not stay retired. Another friend called, this one with ties to Cancoon Thai, which had moved from its decades-old digs in Bellflower to a bigger Bellflower space, across the street from Hambone’s BBQ. Chayapark took over, rebranded it as Thai Noodle King by Kozé (“rhymes with cozy”) and brought in her secret culinary weapon: Hoy-Ka’s original chef-partner.
Thai Noodle King by Kozé is as whimsical as Thai noodle shacks come. Chayapark sometimes breaks into song while delivering bowls of spicy hot noodles. The “lion’s tear noodle” is so named because lion’s tears are “rare like the beef” that's served in the noodle soup.
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Chayapark says she prefers big and bold flavors, like what Jazz Singsanong cooks at Jitlada. Thai Noodle King's signature noodle soup is a punched-up version of Hoy-Ka’s best-selling boat noodle dish: boat noodles with a plethora of offal. A clear-broth tum yong noodle soup packs far more acid than any tum yong soup in Thai Town and makes a perfect flu (or hangover) remedy.
If you're looking for Chayapark at Thai Noodle King, though, you might not find her — or the restaurant itself — there for long. She's been repeatedly called to return home to Bangkok by her son. The grandkids miss her, she says. She has set a timeline for herself: She will retire, this time for real, when she turns 70, and her restaurant will close when she gets on that flight.
In the meantime, Chayapark-approved yen ta fo (tangy red miso noodle soup with fishballs) lives large on a sketchy stretch of Alondra Boulevard, right next to a dive bar that opens at 8 a.m. and across from an Irish pub.
Thai Noodle King by Kozé, 9887 Alondra Blvd., Bellflower; (562) 925-3399, thainoodlekingbykoze.com.