Jet Tila's Menu Tips For Finding A Great Thai Restaurant

Chef and restaurateur Jet Tila likes to credit his success to something he's coined as "birth luck." As he explains on the Chef Jet website, "I was born into the 'first family' of Thai food in Los Angeles. My parents came here separately in 1966 and went on to open the first restaurants and grocery stores in this country, and I was the kid doing homework in the back corner of the restaurant."

Home to the largest population of Thai people — outside of Thailand, of course — Tila didn't just grow up in Los Angeles; he grew up within the kitchens of the city's most legendary Thai restaurants and markets. From a young age, he was picking up cooking techniques from his Cantonese grandma, who worked in LA's first Thai grocery store, Bangkok Market, and Royal Thai Cuisine, an iconic So-Cal Thai restaurant chain run by the Tilakamonkul family for four decades.

Since being awarded the title of Best Thai Food in OC by the Los Angeles Times, the Royal Thai Cuisine dynasty ended when the last family-run location closed in 2020. While you may never get the chance to try his family's cooking — unless you visit one of his restaurants — Tila has some tips to help you find a Thai spot near you that's just as good, if not better.

Look for regional and non-traditional dishes on the menu

With the title of the inaugural Culinary Ambassador of Thai Cuisine given to him by the Royal Thai Consul-General, it's safe to say that Tila is a trustworthy voice for Thai dining recommendations. But, rather than telling you which restaurants to go to, the chef shares his knowledge so that you can find your own go-to Thai spots, no matter where you are. 

In a discussion with Insider, Tila identifies three ways to find a good Thai restaurant. While the first has to do with the table setting and can't be done until you step into the restaurant — or with some serious Yelp image searching — the other two are all about what's on the menu. These two items include regional Thai dishes, such as Khao soi and mango salad, or non-traditional Thai dishes. However, he does admit these aren't always guarantees. 

"The problem is, anyone could put a lesser-known dish but still execute it poorly," he says. Similarly, while non-traditional dishes could be a bad sign, even Tila claims that there are some great Thai restaurants with teriyaki on its menus. It seems like the most foolproof method is to look at the menu first and check for the forks and spoons later. If all are in order, the odds of it being Tila approved are promising.