Of Thai Food and Civic Duty

L.A.’s Renu Nakorn provides delicious rewards for early voters.
Thai food

To vote early in L.A., you must first trek to the county registrar’s office in Norwalk, a bedroom community located 17 miles southeast of downtown. For a Westsider like me, this means a 40-minute freeway drive through the grindingly dull gray landscape of industrial parks and outlet malls. But at the end of the mini-journey, I encountered a crowd of strangers who, like me, clearly felt excited to be participating in a historic election. There was a certain electricity in the air.

But how to sustain the high? Renu Nakorn, one of the best (and cheapest) Thai restaurants in town, is just five minutes away. If you prefer your restaurant experience to reflect the anonymity of the ballot you just cast, opt for one of the standards (satay, beef salad, pad Thai). But if you like the sense of emboldening tradition that comes with the process of picking a President, go for one of the back-road offerings from Thailand’s northeast region and the more urban Chiang Mai area. Nam-prik noom—a dense, roasted green chile dip that you spoon into your mouth with just-crisped pork rinds, thick cucumber slices, or fresh cabbage leaves—is head-clearingly spicy. There’s also a habit-forming nam kao tod—toasted rice and sliced sour sausage mixed with chile, ginger, peanuts, lime juice, and mint. Or try the marinated, deep-fried, Issan-style beef jerky known as nua dad dea; the ground pork salad laap kua, and the rare, grilled seua rong hua (“weeping tiger” beef) that’s served with a tangy dipping sauce.

Until recently, to find good versions of these dishes you had to make the trek to a Las Vegas restaurant called Lotus of Siam (the owners of Renu and Lotus are cousins and offer almost identical menus). That’s because the broken-down strip mall where Renu Nakorn used to be was razed about two years ago. At L.A.’s Renu Nakorn, my friends and I were the only ones wearing red, white, and blue “I Voted” stickers. But it felt very American to be surrounded by office workers of all nationalities, commonly linked by the joy that comes with an exceptional lunch.

Renu Nakorn 13019 E. Rosecrans Ave., Suite 105, Norwalk, CA (562-921-2124)

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