On weekdays, the sprawling Wat Thai Theraveda Buddhist temple complex in North Hollywood is a serene place for prayer and religious ceremonies. But on weekends it becomes a bustling food fair where local vendors serve home-cooked Thai dishes that give restaurants and delivery joints a run for their money.
Wat Thai, which means "Thai temple," has been hosting the fair since 1979 and feeds several hundred visitors each weekend. "We want to promote Thai culture so, of course, we want people to try authentic Thai food," says temple coordinator Sumana Barua. "It doesn't matter what religion you are--contentment in the stomach is No. 1."
Diners must exchange their cash for plastic chips, the only currency accepted at the 10 stands set up in the basement of the main synagogue. Vendors are asked to donate 20% of their profits to the temple.
While the fare changes weekly, favorites such as pad thai, meat satays, papaya salad and creamy iced tea are staples, along with sweet pancake rolls and flavored ices at the dessert booth. Nothing costs more than $5. "I've been coming here for 10 years and there's nothing like it around," says musician Dave Norwoods as he digs into a mound of spicy noodles on a breezy Saturday afternoon. "It's got such a genuine family-like picnic atmosphere."
WAT THAI OF LOS ANGELES, 8225 COLDWATER CANYON ROAD, NORTH HOLLYWOOD; (818) 780-4200. FOOD FAIR, WEEKENDS 10 A.M. TO 4 P.M.