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‘Explosion of Flavor:’ Thai Mariscos Has Arrived in Los Angeles, via This Valley Gem

11:49 AM PDT on September 15, 2020

    Welcome to L.A. Taco's first-ever Ceviche Week, Presented by Tecate! Every day this week, we will bring you features celebrating L.A.'s Ceviche Life because for every great taco in this fine city, there is a great tostada not too far behind. In the perpetual summer that is Los Angeles, there is no better beer that accompanies mariscos (Mexican-style seafood) than an ice-cold Tecate or Tecate Light. ¡Salud!      

    [dropcap size=big]E[/dropcap]very Tuesday, the Sherman Oaks gem Anajak Thai slangs Thai tacos and mariscos. Their  “Thai Taco Tuesdays” have been going on for ten weeks now.  On these evenings, they slash their menu down to a few greatest hits like pad thai, pad siew, lab tot, and Southern-Thai style fried chicken. But also add carnitas tacos, a dry-aged striped bass taco, and a tostada with fresh fish, like albacore from Fiji. 

    Justin Pichetrungsi took over the family business eight years ago and is now the head chef and owner of Anajak Thai. After taking over, Pichetrungsi focused on consolidating the menu and pairing food with natural wine. But that all changed once COVID-19 hit.

    “I think COVID allowed us to think creatively without any consequences,” says Pichetrungsi, “I was tired of being tired, tired of not being creative. You know, honestly, I just wanted to impress my cooks.” Like most restaurant kitchens across Los Angeles, most of his cooks are from Mexico and Central America. Pichetrungsi grew up cooking and waiting tables at the family restaurant through college and grad school. Most of the cooks he worked with were also Mexican.

    Albacore tostada at Anajak Thai. Photo by Cesar Hernandez for L.A. Taco.

    Thai and Mexican food overlap most in both cultures’ affinity for acidity and spice. “The Thai person’s palette is one that craves an explosion of flavor, and I find the same with a lot of my Mexican friends,” explains Pichetrungsi, “If we’re gonna eat it, we're gonna feel a sensation when we eat it.”

    “‘I was joking with them and said ‘let’s just be a taquero for a day,’” says Pichetrungsi, “I’m like fuck it.”

    So they decided to be a taquero every Tuesday and serve tacos filled with sensation.

    The carnitas tacos have become the mainstay at Thai Taco Tuesdays. The carnitas are lush, and the acidic-spicy-sweet papaya salad cuts through the richness. Each taco is served with a Thai salsa called 'Nam Jim Seafood.' It’s made with pounded shallots, cilantro roots, and chiles. In Thailand, this spicy sauce is usually served at weddings but Pichetrungsi pairs it with carnitas. “It goes well on anything,” he says. And using high-quality pork like the stuff he sources from 'Peas and Barnet,' the gucci of pork, is like cheating.

    Carnitas tacos at Anajak Thai. Photo by Cesar Hernandez for L.A. Taco.

    For their tacos and mariscos, they source tortillas from Boyle Heights tortilleria La Princesita. But Pichetrungsi asked for a specially made yellow corn tortilla since he likes it better for carnitas.

    The dry-aged taco is the most unique. The striped bass is hung and aged for a little over a week, then fried at a low temperature, then seared to develop a smokiness. The taco is topped with Boon sauce, a chili oil made by LA chef Max Boonthanakit, and a house mayo for the Ensenada realness. The bass’s aging adds a fruitful flavor that combines effortlessly with the boon sauce’s heat and umami of their house mayo. This taco has a foot in the old (his dad’s house mayo) and the contemporary (dry-age fish).

    Each bite has all the elements you’d expect from a formidable ceviche or aguachile, a similar base of chiles and lime. It feels familiar and new altogether.

    Then there’s the rotating tostada. Pichetrungsi wanted to find a way to bring Ensenada’s favorite La Guerrerense experience to Los Angeles. The fresh fish (last week it was albacore) is prepared with spicy nam jim and lime—call it Thai aguachile. And topped with boon sauce, essentially salsa macha, and avocado slices to complete the tostada ritual. If you’re feeling extra bougie, you can add uni and ikura. 

    Dry-aged fish taco from Anajak. Photo via Anajak.
    Processed with VSCO with e1 preset

    Each bite has all the elements you’d expect from a formidable ceviche or aguachile, a similar base of chiles and lime. It feels familiar and new altogether.

    After 39 years of business, Anajak continues to find new ways to keep things exciting and fresh. Not only has Anajak become the source for some of L.A.’s most exciting Thai food, now you can order a taco too.

    We hope you're enjoying Ceviche Week, presented by Tecate! Check back each day this week for more ceviche stories from Los Angeles!

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