With less than a handful of Thai restaurants in Downtown Los Angeles to choose from, White Elephant in the Historic Core gets a well-deserved two thumbs up.
Located midway beneath the skylight dome of the Spring Arcade Building’s open-air corridor, spanning the length of Spring Street to Broadway, French-baroque-styled arches mark the entrance of the 1914 marvel leading the way to White Elephant and their tantalizing variety of Thai cuisine masterpieces.
“We are a small, tight-knit family with unique experiences and a passion for food. Our love and curiosity for flavor had led us on many unexpected adventures, all of which eventually culminated in White Elephant and the dishes we have to offer.” Says Earth, the oldest son of three siblings.
Matriarch Jenny Suwatluckul along with her son Ten Chaiyakam and daughter Ponch Kollar make up the remaining family members who compose a daily symphony of contemporary and traditional Thai culinary notes.
Each dish is as carefully crafted as they are health-focused; their plates are all made with natural, high-quality ingredients and can be ordered in accordance with the individual’s spice limit. Level 1 being the mildest, all the way up to Level 5, which should be reserved for the more mature spice-relatable palate.
Bursting with flavor, the menu boasts Coconut Milk Fried Chicken, a sliced thigh coated in coconut milk and Thai herbs before frying, served with a sweet, tangy dipping sauce, rice noodles, and a choice of healthy steamed vegetables.
Dishes like their Honey Pork Belly, made with slow honey-roasted Kurobuta, seared for crispness alongside fried garlic and onion, served with sticky rice, and even a side salad (usually a mini portion of one of their signature salads) top the list for customers’ choice when it comes to flavor and authenticity.
For diners with particular food choices, one can always fall back on their Pad Thai. One of Thailand’s most well-known dishes, the plate is gluten-free and can be made with tofu amongst a mix of vegetables with or without the egg, Wagyu steak, shrimp, pork, or chicken add-ons, while keeping the beansprouts, green onions, carrots, and crushed peanuts.
Small orders like their 8-piece Basil Chicken Wings bathed in sweet and sour garlic and topped with crispy basil can be admired from a distance by Spring Arcade passerby’s as diners sit at the tables just outside the floor-to-ceiling windows of White Elephant. Other diners enjoy added privacy as they fill the dining room space inside.
Lunch and dinner seats fill quickly with locals and visitors to White Elephant, who find safe parking in the adjacent lot just north of the restaurant’s location on Spring Street.
Loyal fans return to reorder their favorite dishes and explore new ones until they become friends with the staff on a first-name basis.
So what’s the secret to White Elephant’s success?
“We didn’t really have any formal education in the culinary field. Just grit, hard work, and passion for food.” Said Earth.
“Food has always been an integral part of our lives. I started working ever since I was able to, at 15.5 years old. My journey began as a busser, then a food runner, then a server, and I worked my way up. I moved from different eateries and experienced my styles of business, where I started picking up many foundational skills. Said Earth. “Whatever was available for me to do, I did it to the best of my ability.”
On a path that helps him support his family in whatever way he can, Earth is also using the eatery to fund his schooling.
Mom, on the other hand, has always cooked at home for the family, passing down ancestral flavors to the next generation, and today she’s sharing those same traditional culinary recipes with the city.
When mom hinted at wanting to open a restaurant, the three siblings decided if her dream was going to become a reality, they would pursue something with a unique purpose beyond just making ends meet.
Moving into the Spring Arcade in 2020, the locals’ contemporary furnishings, stair case center piece, and open kitchen turned out to be as aesthetically pleasing to the senses as their Sweet Cream Thai Tea and as long-lasting and memorable as their Mango Blue Sticky Rice dessert.
Although the concept of White Elephant doesn’t aim to offer every dish that Thailand has to offer, the family has managed to carefully select a few nicely packaged dishes that offer a glimpse into the bold flavors of Thai cuisine, inviting the community to join their family’s journey, one really good Thai food dish at a time.
White Elephant is located at 541 S. Spring Street, Los Angeles, CA 90013. www.welephant.com