Beyond being secretive, Darabar Thai is purportedly “inventive”, but only if you believe the review in AAA magazine. Most of what’s out on print regarding Darabar is cursory, though Tasting Table tried to do the right thang by deeper probing.

There is absolutely nothing “inventive” about khao kluk kapi itself, even in Los Angeles. It’s seen in dozen of Thai-town and Thai-town adjacent restaurants, in restaurants as grungy and unoriginal as Khun Dom, Prael, Ganda and Ruen Pair. Again, neither is the hoy tod (egg omelette with mussels, seen above) anywhere near “inventive”, as hoy tawt carts can be seen on every soi corner in Bangkok. There is also nothing inventive about the som tam (papaya salad) seen at Darabar. Yet these dishes are commonly ordered at Darabar Secret Thai; ask nearly any LA Thai on social media, and someone will tout Darabar’s hoy tawt as the best in LA. Why? Execution by a Chiang Rai grammy.

The downfall of most khao kluk kapi is carelessness and the low quality ingredient. Darabar serves a very classic rendition of khao kluk kapi, but there’s an extra side of lap cheong in addition to the sweet beef and the dried shrimp; there’s also a proper addition of julienned green apples that many places simply leave out. The somtam here is bespoken: blue crab, or salted black crab; half blue, half salted black crab; half (fresh) blue and half dried shrimp, or straight up dried shrimp? Anyone confused? Anyone drooling? Anyone’s ring of fire already lit by the thought of mortared rat shit peppers? A typical Issan would go for the full metal jacket of salted black crab and pla ra (fermented fish sauce). I pussed out and got the fresh sea blue crab + pla ra done medium spicy. This still rendered the som tam, sitting in a murky pool, nearly inedible save for a few slivers at a time. After sitting for 2 days, the som tam was overwhelmingly approved by a badass Thai cook. Darabar’s mommy-powered kitchen does not muck around. Ask, and ye shall receive.

But som tam and khao kluk kapi are is clearly not Northern. Even the most Bangkok vendors cross-hatch green papayas and pounds som tam a la minute. Do not worry. Studying the menu reveals huge doses of Northern funk. The sai ua, the kanom jeen nam niao browned by mixed pork blood (above: bottom right), the affordable khao soi, nam prik, and kaengs of all kinds are tucked into random sections of the menu, not unlike the shlongs of lady boys. Of kaeng som alone, at least four renditions can be requested. Of the four, kaeng som kung cha om (sour curry with shrimp and cha-om omelette; above: left), as well as kaeng som pae sa (sour curry with fried mudsfish, in this case, bass; above: top right) are both tantatlizingly sour, and smelly. Beyond the “typical” Northern dishes, the chef, owner Kevin Seesod’s mother, offers a khae kradang (Thai head cheese) — btw, check out these jr high school kids put out a bilingual thai cooking video on khae kradang), and a very Northern Thai wild boar jungle curry (kaeng pa muu). Oddly, the khae kradang and kaeng pa muu are both topped with a very un-Northern dose of coconut cream. Iunno wtf happened there. Mrs. Seesod must be bored watching all the lil Thai club kiddies get wasted on Johnnie Walker Green.

Wait what, there’s hard liquor here? Just like a Bangkok bar/restaurant/ultra lounge? Like Long Table (but with better food)? And you can sip blended scotch while rocking your nuts off on that fantastic steamed seabass (see above right) dipped in a kicking green jiaw (chili paste) or knawing the spiced sweet pork off the leg of the kaeng hang le? Do the wonders of this restaurant ever end? No sir, there’s live lounge acts on Saturday night. There are disgustingly addicting renditions of Issan food (yam sam krob — three crispy salad, seen above left — is icky sticky with way too much tamarind and corn syrup dressing). The only rather foul dish has been the satays.

At the end of the meal, Darabar will reveal her secret prestige: a full Thai dessert menu. Bua loy, lod chong, banh lot, 3 color jelly, and black grass jelly can all be found on the menu. Not everything is available all the time (the khao man gai remains illusive), but again, ask and you shall receive.

Yes, the service can be absolutely atrocious if one’s not dating one of the waitresses, doesn’t know the owner, not dating a Thai girl who knows a waitress, not related to the owner Kevin and his mom the chef, nor having a birthday. But this is a full liquored lounge that runs until 2:00 A.M. serving some of the harder to find Thai foods of LA. Every out of town Thai-loving (or Thai-food loving) married (or single) dude must come here. Why? Cuz the aforementioned som tam looks like this:

With that in mind, can someone please explain Darabar’s extraordinarily aloof and exotic hostesses, all sporting booty shorts, long wavy tinted hair, and cropped tanks? They’re certainly not waiting on you. They’re nomming on their own khanom jeen nam ngiao. No one minds the eye candy though what exactly is the vibe here? Hollywood Thai (great food, by the way) is known for the cute waitresses, and it is clearly Darabar Secret’s direct competition, but the casual misogyny is a bit egregious even by pervy farang standards. At least there’s no freaking wine list (yes, I’m talking about Chada Thai). It’s Woodbridge, or whatever’s that’s been sitting on the shelf since Darabar’s opening (August 2011).

Darabar Secret Thai
Unofficial Facebook
Darabar - Secret Thai Cuisine on Urbanspoon
5112 Hollywood Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90027



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