Wat Thai Temple Food Market – Los Angeles, California - Gastro Obscura

Gastro Obscura

Wat Thai Temple Food Market

Every weekend, the parking lot of this Buddhist temple turns into a Thai street-food paradise. 

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There’s a place where throngs of foodies jostle around rows of street-food stalls selling pad Thai, mango and sticky rice, and papaya salad in the shadow of a Buddhist temple, the air thick with the smell of sweet, grilling meat, noodles frying in curry paste and fish sauce, and coconut balls crisping in griddles. It’s not Bangkok; it’s a parking lot in Los Angeles.

Since the 1980s, this weekend-only food market has sold some of the best Thai food outside of Thailand. What began as a handful of Thai grandmothers getting together to share their family recipes and renditions of homeland classics evolved into a weekly transformation of the Wat Thai Temple’s parking lot into a bustling Thai street scene, with a portion of the profits going to the temple itself.

By the mid-2000s, however, the market had outgrown itself, with parking and garbage issues drawing heavy complaints from neighbors. In 2007, the city shut down the temple’s weekly food-fair, to the chagrin of the devout following the temple had accrued over the years.

In 2015, the market returned, once again selling everyone’s Thai favorites—meaty larb, sweet coconut fritters, fried bananas, and sour Isaan sausage—as well as some off-the-beaten-path dishes that never quite attained pad Thai–level fame, such as mussel pancakes with sweet-and-sour sauce, fried potato balls, and kanom krok, a pan-fried ball of rice flour and coconut milk.

Nothing comes closer to true Thai street food outside Thailand than this market. For elephants, waterfalls, and scuba diving, you’ll still have to go to the actual country.

Know Before You Go

The vendors do not carry cash: Visitors can exchange their money into plastic tokens in the middle of the market that are equal to $1 or $2.