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Long Beach Runs on Thai Curry Pizza: How the Mom and Pop Strip Mall Institution Captured the L.B.C.’s Heart With Their Southeast Asian-style Pies

1:10 PM PDT on November 3, 2021

Welcome to Local Gems, our monthly restaurant column presented by White Claw, the official hard seltzer of L.A. TACO. Each month we’ll honor neighborhood institutions that make delicious food and have stood the test of time all over Los Angeles. Read, order, share, and don’t be afraid to rep your own hood's local gem in the comments.

In Los Angeles, Long Beach is a lot of things. It’s the unofficial sister city and the second biggest, located in the confines of the county proper. But one thing that people don’t always associate La Playa Larga with is being a pizza paradise by the sea, and specifically the home of the one and only Dean’s Thai Curry Pizza. The extremely unique tom yum paste-topped pizza at this bonafide strip mall gem is one that you have to visit, taste, and reflect on to truly appreciate. 

When one enters the Long Beach Pizza-verse, you instantly become aware of the variety of pie options to choose from as far as styles and prices point are concerned. New school joints such as Little Coyote and The 4th Horseman have recently attracted eaters who bring their innovative take on pies. If you were looking for more Napoli-style pie, you have such standbys as La Parolaccia Osteria or Michael’s. Then for your lower price point, but ever lacking in quality with places such as Pizza x Two and Porky’s Pizza are perfect when you need a quick plan b for dinner. 

The community of Long Beach runs on its delivery and take-out options. The dense neighborhoods lined with narrow streets where parking can be frequently scarce have many residents order take-out or delivery. For that, there is one humble pizza place that remains distinctively representative of the area as a whole. We, of course, are talking about the one and only Dean’s Thai Curry Pizza.

Inside Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Inside Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Outside Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Outside Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

Its hole-in-the-wall location is easy to miss, even if you are looking for it. However, once you pass the burger stand and family-owned Mexican restaurant located in the most nondescript corner section of a strip mall, you are in the right spot. Founded 17 years ago by a group of friends from Bangkok, Thailand, Sonny, Sam, and Sue bought the business from its original owner. 

At the time, it was your standard Italian pizza take-out spot. However, the friends realized they weren’t doing as well as they hoped, so they had the genius idea to add Thai food to the menu to capture more business. In addition to a menu full of standard Thai dishes, such as pad kee mao and green papaya salad, they came up with the genius idea to spice things up by adding the Thai flavors as topping options for their pizzas. The results were two different pizzas, the yellow Thai curry pizza, and the tom yum pizza.  

Outside Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Outside Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
The vibe inside Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
The vibe inside Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

If you are reading this and thinking that flavors won’t work in a pizza context, you wouldn’t be alone in assuming such. But if you are a fan of pizza and trying new things, you owe it yourself to try. Breaking down the flavor profile of each pizza, the yellow Thai curry, upon the first bite, you are instantly confronted with the sweet flavor of the curry, along with the texture of green bell peppers and sauteed onions, with tofu, all superbly baked into the crust.

Those in the know will often ask for an extra side of Panang curry or red curry dipping sauce to dip their slices into for the maximum flavor effect, sold for about $1 a pop. Some of us may even prefer it to marinara sauce to dip your leftover “pizza bones” (crusts).

For those looking for a more savory option, the tom yum pizza packs a punch with its intense flavors made up of lemongrass, makrut lime, ginger, and shrimp paste. The umami base is topped with the option of cheese and mushroom, tomato, and cilantro. Taking a bite will instantly take you to another place entirely, and you’ll be left trying to compute what you have just consumed and how you have gone this far without trying something as excellent as this. Those in the know will often ask for an extra side of Panang curry or red curry dipping sauce to dip their slices into for the maximum flavor effect, sold for about $1 a pop. Some of us may even prefer it to marinara sauce to dip your leftover “pizza bones” (crusts).

The owners behind Thai Curry Pizza.
The crew behind Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Gab Chabran for L.A. TACO.
Sam, one of the co-owners of Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Sam, one of the co-owners of Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Sam, one of the co-owners of Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Sam and Sue, co-owners of Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

Speaking with Sonny about how the group of friends-turned-business associates decided what flavors would work best for the style of pizza. “We tried several, but people in those days didn’t know about it yet. The tom yum and curry were the most popular.  They became well known in the community.” Word travels fast amongst those who had tried the pizza, and they began to gain positive reviews on Yelp and other social media platforms. 

In terms of popularity, Sonny believes the secret is in the sauce and the soft and flavorful dough, both made in-house. When you have the pizza from Thai Curry Pizza, you will undoubtedly taste the love in every bite. 

The dusty arcades inside Thai Curry Pizza.
The dusty arcade room-turned pizza box storage room at Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

However, it’s because of that type of local gem experience as a small business operation with its challenges. Providing quality customer service can come with its challenges, especially when giving niche-specific products and supply issues and the rising cost of materials that many restaurants face. Sonny says he doesn’t mind the price increase, but suppliers simply don’t have the materials required. He mentions the example of medium-sized pizza boxes and how they’ve been hard to get the past couple of weeks. Another issue, according to Sonny, the business has been slower than usual. “People don’t want to spend money because of inflation,” he laments. But it’s not simply his business; the burger stand and the Mexican restaurant, which neighbors TCP, are all in the same boat. “It’s never happened before. This time is worse than the beginning of the pandemic; he tells L.A. TACO. Still, Thai Curry Pizza remains hopeful that their loyal following will help them through it all.

“We are only in Long Beach. We are the only ones in L.A. County. We are the only ones in the country. Some have tried to copy us, but it is not the same.”

Delivery is an option at Thai Curry Pizza; however, staffing issues sometimes result in long wait times. As a result, it’s hard to make sure that everyone can get their pizza on time. Sonny recommends calling in your order ahead of time and taking your order to go. Getting a takeaway option is a perfect opportunity to take advantage of the many parks, beaches, and lagoons that dot the various neighbors around Long Beach.

Tom Yum Pizza at Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Tom Yum Pizza at Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Tom Yum Pizza at Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.
Thai Curry Pizza. Photo by Javier Cabral for L.A. TACO.

The longevity of their success is their honesty in the order and the quality of their ingredients. It’s. “That success is in the taste of flavors. We never change,” Sonny says. 

When asked if there was something distinctly Long Beach about Thai Curry Pizza, Sonny quickly responds. “We are only in Long Beach. We are the only ones in L.A. County. We are the only ones in the country. Some have tried to copy us, but it is not the same.” However, he does mention that his partner Sam’s sister does operate a restaurant in North Hollywood that does use the same recipe called La Vo Noodle & Thai Curry Pizza 2. Sam is currently 72 years old and still works every day at the Thai-owned pizza shop institution; still taking your orders and giving you accurate numbers for pizza wait times. 

As far as what the future looks like, Sonny, says he’s not quite sure. “We live day by day now,” he says. While he remains optimistic because of COVID-19, it’s hard to say what it looks like after the last couple of years. But he believes that people will still need to eat and will continue to find comfort in their food in these uncertain times. “We are here and ready to serve them. As long as they keep coming in,” he says, smiles wistfully. 

929 Redondo Ave, Long Beach, CA 90804

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