Ruen Pair, a Thai Town restaurant that shares a strip mall with a dessert and snack shop and the more memorably named Crispy Pork Gang, has a reputation as a chef's favorite. It's often cited as a place where the city's best cooks can head to after their shift to indulge in truly excellent Thai food, from standards like tom kha gai soup to harder-to-find dishes. It is open till 3 a.m., too, which in L.A. officially makes it a late-night kind of place.
But go there before midnight, or 9 p.m., or 7 p.m. (early dinner happens sometimes!) and you'll find an entirely different atmosphere. There is no drunken carousing but there are plenty of children, some of them screaming with glee. And a lot of them just running full speed around the dining room. Hey, at least they're getting an excellent food education.
Ruen Pair makes its credentials known the instant you walk in the door and take in the scent of the aforementioned tom kha gai, turning ordering into a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: Of course every table has ordered this coconut broth, filled with lemongrass, lime and galangal, a rhizome similar to ginger. Order it with shrimp.
There's a huge menu of salads, many of them spicy (start kids with spicy food early enough and they might not even notice the heat). Try the squid or the "raw" beef — it's "cooked" like ceviche in the citrus juice — or the duck feet, but don't miss the papaya salad, a restaurant standard elevated to perfection at Ruen Pair.
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Perhaps part of the reason the restaurant is so popular with families is that the menu provides an education for children. They can learn a lot simply by listening to their elders order dinner. For instance, the morning glory is the go-to vegetable dish here. But morning glory doesn't mean a flowering vine plant. When it's on a Thai menu, it refers to a tropical plant that grows right next to water and tastes similar to spinach. See, we're learning about botany and language!
There is one dish, in this menu full of stars, that simply cannot be missed: the turnip omelet. On the menu it's called fried egg and salty turnip, and it may be the world's most perfect combination of savory, salty and sweet. It could put you in a fugue state. Just don't forget your kids.
5257 Hollywood Blvd., Thai Town. (323) 466-0153, ruenpairthaila.com.