Taking over the former Cafe Dahab on the northern stretch of Sawtelle Boulevard, Tuk Tuk Thai opened last week serving a mostly street food menu of classics like Isaan sour sausage and prik khing moo grob (green beans with pork belly and red curry paste) from chef Amanda Kuntee and sister/partner Katy Noochlaor, who also runs Same Same Thai in Silver Lake.
The small inside space features a few outdoor tables to accommodate almost 50 diners with a menu that’s different enough from their family’s restaurant Chao Krung on Fairfax Avenue, which opened in 1976 and is one of the oldest Thai spots in the city. Tuk Tuk reopens after it served on Pico Boulevard for more than 23 years before relocating to Sawtelle. The new dining room features a lot of millennial pink hues, modern chairs and tables, plus a few hanging votives to mark the space.
The star here is the menu, which seems a bit more focused than the typical Thai restaurant but has classics like green papaya salad, larb, chili holi basil, crab fried rice, and, of course, pad Thai. There’s a section dedicated to pork belly, like the aforementioned moo grob and even pork belly pad thai. The pork show continues with the stellar egg noodles with slivers of grilled fatty pork collar, garlic oil, and blanched greens for something resembling the famous dry jade noodles from Sapp Coffee Shop (though the noodles at Tuk Tuk are a typical yellow color).
Entrees include marinated flap steak with roasted rice chili pepper sauce or Hainanese fried chicken, sliced and served with garlic rice. Curry selections are simple, too, with creamy coconut panang served in a variety of proteins to gaeng gari gai, a yellow curry chicken served with roti and cucumber salad. Vegan jackfruit red curry works for plant-based diners while Chao Krung’s epic green curry, pounded fresh and prepared with a fantastic balance of makrut lime, Thai eggplant, and galangal, rounds out the aromatic stews.
Desserts include sweet brown sugar roti with condensed milk, coconut flan, pandan-tinted tapioca pudding or a classic mango with sweet sticky rice. At the moment, the only drinks are non-alcoholic, with a less sweet Thai iced tea, sodas, mango drink, and lychee drink to help temper the spicy food.
On that note, there are three menu-specified levels of spice: mild, hot, and “Thai fire.” The middle level, hot, will certainly be a challenge for most people while the Thai fire is for those who have truly impressive levels of capsaicin tolerance. While Sawtelle is certainly one of the best collections of Asian food, with Japanese being the most prominent cuisine, it’s great to see a new Thai restaurant join one of Los Angeles’s busiest dining neighborhoods.
Tuk Tuk Thai is open with on-site dining, delivery, and takeout from 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Monday to Wednesday, until 10 p.m. Thursday to Saturday, and from 1 to 9 p.m. on Sunday.