Los Angeles is certainly no stranger to world-class Thai cuisine. The city is home to the only officially recognized “Thai Town” in the entire country. Indeed, it could be reasonably argued that LA boasts the best Thai food anywhere outside of Southeast Asia.
But it wasn’t always this way. When Chao Krung opened here in 1969, it was among the first Thai restaurants in all of Southern California. Today it exists as its oldest. Keeping the tradition—and fine flavors—in tact are chef Amanda Kuntee and Katy Noochlaor. The sisters are third generation co-owners of the historic eatery, now located on Fairfax Avenue.
Kuntee is taking the lead in the the kitchen, imbuing family recipes with authentic relevancy and savory results. Her rendition of Ko Mu Yang—a tender pork neck served with housemade dipping sauces—is among my favorite single dishes in all of LA. The fact that this place continues to shine after so many years shouldn’t be all that surprising. You don’t get to be the oldest Thai restaurant in town by just resting on your laurels. But what you might not realize is how well it all goes with wine.
The sisters are hoping to shine a spotlight on the beauty of that particular combination. And they’re doing so in a particularly noteworthy way: by celebrating the many brilliant women of wine. They have launched the city’s first wine list comprised exclusively of female vintners.
To get a taste of how it all came together—and how best to pair Thai food with wine—I sat down with the accomplished restaurateurs…Over pinot and pad see ew, of course.
The following interview has been edited for length and clarity.
When did you launch the all-female wine menu?
Katy Noochlaor: We launched an all-female wine menu in March of 2020. Unfortunately, the industry shut down soon after, so we’re relaunching it now.
Where did the idea come from?
Noochlaor: The wine industry is mainly a white and male-dominated industry. It feels more important than ever to shine a light on the female entrepreneurs who are not only thriving in the food and beverage industry, but owning it. We want to support badass entrepreneurial women throughout the hospitality industry and to continue to see women shine in the world of winemaking. As a female-run restaurant, we want to support women across the hospitality industry. We curated this innovative new wine list, which has a significant female presence behind each wine, that reflects who we are as a women-run, small family restaurant.
What are a few of the standout selections?
Noochlaor: If I have to pick a favorite, I love highlighting the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay from Ernest Vineyards. Not only is Erin Brooks an owner and founder, but she started and manages their custom crush facility and new vineyard management company. The wine itself is not typical for many California Chardonnays that people are used to. It is very bright, delicate, fresh, zippy, and elegant, making it a true example of a cool climate coastal Chardonnay. It feels like a world class Burgundy rooted in Sonoma, and it is perfect with Thai food.
In the Reds, I love the story of the two sisters, Honorine and Clothilde Pain, who make world-class Cabernet Franc from their family’s small estate in Chinon in the Loire. They grew up in the winery and vineyard with their father Phillipe, and have picked up his mantle and run with it! This wine is perfect with the coconut milk in curry, and is so fun to see the Thai and French traditions combine.
How many wines are on the list at any given time?
Noochlaor: 11-12. It is a very focused list that has something for everyone, but is nimble and efficient.
How long have you been working in the kitchen at Chao Krung?
Amanda Kuntee: For as long as I can remember. I have been in and out of the Chao Krung kitchen between 1997 and 2007, improving the menu and the recipes. From 2007 to 2014, I partnered with family members and opened two restaurants. The first restaurant was Chadaka Thai which was fine dining and the second was Soi56, specializing in Thai street food. My aunt was the head chef at Chadaka Thai so I didn’t work much in the kitchen but I learned a lot from my aunt. When we opened Soi56 in 2008, then I was working in the kitchen with my cousin creating recipes that were authentic and making simple dishes like Pad Thai stand out. When my parents wanted to retire, we sold Chadaka Thai and Soi56 and kept one restaurant, Chao Krung. Since 2015 I have been working as an executive chef at Chao Krung Thai using all the experiences I gained from all the kitchens.
How would you describe your style of cuisine?
Kuntee: Authentic Thai Homestyle cooking. I want to make even the simplest Thai favorites stand out. With a strong focus on centuries-old Thai tradition of family hospitality and food, Chao Krung has become a neighborhood staple for authentic Thai cuisine featuring recipes passed down through generations of a culinary inclined family. My grandmother used to prepare dishes for the royal family in Thailand. The menu at Chao Krung is focused on deeply traditional recipes with only the highest quality market-fresh ingredients, meats, and sauces made from scratch.
What are some of the dishes you prepare here that aren’t often found on Thai menus in the US?
Kuntee: Hungley Curry…A Northern Thai sweet pork belly and pork shoulder curry, simmered with ginger, palm sugar, turmeric, tamarind, curry powder, and pickled garlic. Lemongrass lamb chops…A flavorful New Zealand lamb chop marinated in crushed lemongrass, crushed peanuts, and a rich soybean sauce. Served with garlic bean and chili lime sauce with your choice of jasmine or brown rice.
What are some basic pairing tips for pairing wine with Thai cuisine?
Kuntee: All of the basic pairing principles apply to Thai cuisine, like acidity cutting richness and tannin pairing with fat. The things that make Thai food different for wine are the sweetness and spice. So you want to look for wines that have enough fresh acidity to cut through the sweet and rich aspects and refresh the palette, but you also want enough body to stand up to the power and spice of the food. And then for very spicy food, the best thing in the world is a Riesling. I always say Riesling and Thai Food are best friends. I also have always been delighted how medium-bodied fruit-forward wines go great with the coconut milk in curries, and champagne or bubbles with Khao Soi is a pairing made in heaven.