If Los Angeles is the City of Angels, then so is Bangkok, whose Thai name, Krung Thep, means the same. There are so many ethnic Thais in Southern California, about 80,000, that some folks in the old country call us Thailand’s 77th province. As if to emphasize this kinship, this year L.A. designated part of East Hollywood as America’s first Thai Town.
But Thailand doesn’t have Elvis, at least not the Thai Elvis impersonator who entertains at Thai Town’s Palms Thai Restaurant in sequined satin, gold chains, big glasses and a rhinestone belt buckle. My friend Russ has unbridled affection for quirkiness, and when I mentioned this place, he and his wife, Sandra, leapt to join me.
Arriving one Friday night, we were told we’d have to wait a half hour for a table (they don’t take reservations). No problem— Russ was entranced by Elvis warbling “Devil in Disguise” to a karaoke soundtrack on a small stage. We ordered beers at the bar, and within a quick 10 minutes, our table was ready. Our smiling waitress patiently helped us through the extensive menu, even pouring our beer.
We started with beef jerky, much better than it sounds, brisket sliced like oversized steak fries, warm and tender, with the aroma of fried chicken and a side of chili tamarind sauce.
Among the standards, the chicken coconut soup was balanced with sweet coconut, sour lemon grass and spicy chili. The Pad Thai was terrific, unusually moist, with tasty chopped roast peanuts.
“Thankyouverymush. Thank you, kop koon krap [Thai for thank you],” Elvis mumbled after a rendition of “Don’t be Cruel.”
We shared the Thai omelet with ground pork at once airy, crisp and tender while a Jennifer Lopez-type performed Thai favorites and “My Heart Will Go On” during Elvis’s break.
Deep-fried trout was golden brown and served with a tangy sauce filled with shoe-stringed mango. Rad Na (beef and Chinese broccoli over wide flat noodles) was sort of a letdown, with sparse noodles and thin sauce.
Palms does not serve dessert, but you can bring in sweets from Bhan Kanom Thai bakery next door. The bakery also sells Thai trinkets like garlands of tiny flowers made from soap.
The crowd was about half Thai and half the kind of diverse crowd you expect to find in Hollywood. The single square room, though, was neither Hollywood nor Bangkok, with pale wood paneling, picture windows, plain tables and lighting and a smattering of Thai art and sculpture.
Is Elvis a gimmick? Maybe. Still, Palms has quality food and shows unexpected heart in the Big City. As we finished our desserts, Elvis crooned “Love Me Tender,” and Sandra and Russ shared a kiss.