[RESTAURANT REVIEW] Chan Dara Keeps Thai Tradition Alive
As the longest-lived restaurant on Larchmont Boulevard, and one of the oldest Thai restaurants in Los Angeles, Chan Dara deserves a prize just for longevity.
It was once connected to Chan Darae on Cahuenga, which closed this summer after 40 years of serving pretty good Thai food to the likes of David Bowie and Tina Turner.
But the owners split at some point, and Chan Dara stuck around on Larchmont in a plum corner location with one of the area’s rare patios.
It’s more genteel than the typical Thai town spot, with white tablecloths, an extensive beer and wine list, and toned-down flavors that won’t offend anyone not accustomed to chiles.
That’s not to say it doesn’t have its pleasures. It’s strangely hard to find good outdoor dining areas for warm summer nights in Los Angeles, and Chan Dara’s fits the bill.
The soju cocktails, made from the mild Korean liquor, are fruity and refreshing. And the large menu ranges from all the Thai favorites to fusion dishes like mango tango salmon, tequila shrimp and calamari chardonnay that sound like they may have been conceived around the time the restaurant opened in 1984.
For years, one of its distinctions was the attractive, scantily-clad waitresses. Thankfully, that impression seems to be fading. In what was once a sprawling vintage Spanish house, a series of rooms, including a bar area with TVs, winds around to the compact patio, which is definitely the preferred seating area.
While the menu has likely grown over the years, some Thai favorites of earlier eras remain, like shrimp toast and mee krob—the crispy noodles covered in sticky-sweet chili sauce that beguiled those new to the cuisine in the 1980s.
Unfortunately, most dishes have some sort of issue: Crispy mango chicken, served with papaya salad and rice, is similar to orange chicken, though it doesn’t quite achieve the decadent crunch of the better versions.
Chinese broccoli with crispy pork, with too much super-salty sauce and chewy, rather than crunchy pork, likewise isn’t up to the city’s better renditions of the dish. Pad kee mao, the wide, flat rice noodles often known as Drunken Noodles or just Spicy Noodles, aren’t fully sliced, so some of the noodles remain in a large sheet.
On the upside, there’s a far larger selection of beers and wines, in addition to soju and sake, than most Thai restaurants—the Pico Boulevard location in West L.A. has a full bar.
The upscale location and pleasant patio come at a price. With many of the seafood dishes in the $20 range, the execution should be at a higher level.
A fine evening stroll destination for those who live nearby, Chan Dara is a bit of a throwback to the 1980s, which can be both fun and frustrating. It might be time for a revamp—or maybe we should appreciate the retro vibe while it lasts.
310 N. Larchmont Boulevard