Designing Delicious

Anajak Thai

A humble Thai food joint is one of the hottest tables in glamorous L.A. thanks to Justin Pichetrungsi, who left his job as an art director at Disney to breathe new life into his family's decades-old restaurant.

What if we told you that one of L.A.’s most sensational restaurants is piloted by a chef with no formal training? Meet Justin Pichetrungsi, the mastermind behind Anajak Thai. “People are like, did you go to culinary school?” he says. “The answer is no. My father trained me, and when he became ill, I was really the only one who knew how to do his job.”

Since opening in 1981, the humble Sherman Oaks restaurant existed as a classic Thai food joint. Pichetrungsi grew up working for the family business, though he was ultimately destined for art school. But when his dad’s health problems arose in 2019, Pichetrungsi left an art director job at Disney to take the reins of Anajak. Building atop the decades-long foundation, he began introducing some fresh ideas.

“There’s a traditional side to this place and you see that in the food—what’s more classic in Thai cuisine and what’s more contemporary in L.A. cuisine,” he says. Anajak’s originality makes it difficult to classify. Where else could you find artworks by the chef’s grandfather, the former royal court painter for the King of Thailand; old-school R&B and obscure Japanese pumping over the speakers; menu pairings like fried chicken and champagne; and a sprawling 300-plus wine list focused on natural European varietals? And that’s before you start to wrap your head around the omnidirectional culinary program.

From Thai Taco Tuesday—a pop-up started during the pandemic in the restaurant’s adjacent alley with a perennially sprawling line—to the inventive 14-course omakase presented through a Southeast Asian lens, to the regular dinner service offering up a la carte items such as the wok-fired Dungeness crab with house-special garlic sauce and the grilled black sea bream served on a pool of green nam jim seafood sauce, a meal at Anajak is a sensorial experience. “You gotta come here with this kind of energy. If you’re looking for a quiet night, this is not your place,” he says. As the website declares, Anajak is “one big f*cking party.”

In the latest installment of Designing Delicious, we visit Anajak Thai.

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