Tucked away in Stall C-4-5 of L.A.'s iconic Grand Central Market, the 4-month old Sticky Rice stands out among the pupusa, ceviche and tacos stands that litter the food court. The Thai takeaway spot is one of the first tenants of this new class of vendors that are bringing brought in to modernize the offerings at Grand Central Market, which has occupied the space on Broadway in Downtown Los Angeles since 1917. Owner David Tewasart, who also owns Soi 7 and Spirit House, wanted to open a spot that highlighted the food he ate in the kitchen, instead of the dishes that were offered on Americanized menus to guests.
"The older generation catered their food to the way they wanted to eat, which meant sweet pad thai and softer flavors, but everyone's palates are becoming more discerning and adventurous," said Tewasart. "We're trying to move away from California Thai and focusing on more regional dishes like grilled meats and spicier, fresher salads."
The menu moves away from haute cuisine and offers homey comfort eats like grilled chicken, sticky rice and papaya salad, spicy penang curry with beef, and a Thai sausage made with fermented rice, food that is found in the Northern parts of Thailand outside of the capital city Bangkok. When I asked how they ferment the sausage with rice, the chef at the grill station gave a coy smile and replied, "It's a secret."
Without a doubt, the coolest item to order is Sticky Rice's papaya salad (Som Tam), which is made to order the traditional way, with a mortar and pestle. Garlic and chili peppers are first crushed to release the juices, then fish sauce and lime juice are added to create the dressing. Fresh green papaya, long beans, peanuts and carrots are then added and blended together to create a light and refreshing salad. Check out the Instagram video below:
"We're not trying to reinvent the dishes but are doing Thai the way we want to do it by upping the quality of the ingredients and not dumbing it down," says Tewasart. "At first my mom was confused about our location, saying 'Why are there not one hundred things on the menu and where is the parking?'" he laughs, adding, "but I think she's coming around."