I'm taking the risk of losing a friendship and angering a number of other people by writing about Anajak Thai, Cuisine of Thailand. This little restaurant in Sherman Oaks has been their well-kept secret.
Anajak is not new, having been run by members of a family from Bangkok for the past six years. Owner Rick Pichetrungsi came to the United States as an exchange student 18 years ago. "I never expected to become a cook," claims Pichetrungsi, but after 12 years of working at a Japanese restaurant, he decided to go it alone and chose the name Anajak, meaning kingdom of the Siam.
A sister and brother-in-law (married to still another sister--he has seven) joined him in the business. Then four years ago on a flight to Bangkok, Pichetrungsi met a stewardess, asked her to marry him and trade serving meals on an airplane for doing so in the restaurant. She agreed and has recently returned to the business after giving birth to the newest family member.
Don't go to Anajak expecting elaborate decor. Bright blue walls are adorned by just a few pieces of art and some framed reviews. Thirteen tables are tucked into the long, narrow room. Lighting is plentiful at lunchtime, but very subdued in the evening.
Do go to Anajak for food, which is consistently good to excellent. The menu has 55 items divided among appetizers, soups, salads, house specialties, a daily special, rice, noodles, curry and vegetable dishes. Enough to satisfy and keep you coming back for numerous visits.
Pichetrungsi prides himself on the quality of ingredients used while still maintaining moderate prices. "I want people to be able to eat here once or twice a week without straining their budgets," he said.
Naturally we didn't taste every dish, but recommended appetizers include the Thai spring rolls and Thai famous barbecued ribs. The combination platter includes both, along with fried won tons.
Yum yai salad was outstanding. One member of our party described this shrimp and chicken topped with chile-lime sauce on a bed of lettuce, cucumber and onions as what he considers the essence of Thai cuisine--spicy contrasted by cool flavors.
Anajak Thai chicken, sauteed in brown sauce with cashews and roasted chiles, was another of our favorites. Both ginger beef and shrimp were enjoyable, with plenty of the hot-cool spice flavor. The chile-pepper fried rice had plenty of fire, but was an excellent contrast to milder dishes like Anajak Thai fish.
A luncheon menu is offered each day. This features items appropriate for takeout--convenient for people from nearby businesses. Dishes from the dinner menu, however, are available for the asking.
Thai iced tea and coffee are offered, along with two Thai and two Japanese brand beers. Also available are domestic wine, Japanese sake and plum wine. Typical of Thai restaurants, desserts are limited to coconut ice cream, lychees and rambutan.
Once your order is taken, the food arrives rapidly. Pichetrungsi explained that the speed is possible because preparation is divided among those in the kitchen. Up to three additional cooks (not members of the family) are used during busy periods.
Service is efficient, but the one or two waitresses are kept very busy handling the entire room. Pichetrungsi helps out with serving and clearing tables during busier hours and leaves the cooking to others.
Even though the restaurant is consistently busy, there's no pressure to rush. Street parking usually poses no problem at dinner but can be a challenge at lunchtime. And don't drive down the alley beside the restaurant looking for a lot--you'll have a heck of a time turning around and getting out again (I speak from experience).
Anajak Thai, Cuisine of Thailand, 14704 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 501-4201. Lunch, Monday through Friday, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Dinner, Tuesday through Thursday, from 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday, from 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday, from 4 to 11 p.m.; Sunday, from 4 to 10 p.m. American Express, MasterCard and Visa accepted. Street parking. Reservations accepted for three or more. Dinner entrees from $4.95 to $12.