A razor clam dish from Anajak Thai’s omakase menu. Photo by Pete Lee, courtesy of Anajak Thai

The One Who Keeps the BookLos Angeles

How to Get Into Anajak Thai (And What to Order Once You’re There)


In 2019, when his father suffered a stroke, Justin Pichetrungsi left his art director job at Walt Disney to return home to Sherman Oaks and take over his family’s beloved restaurant, Anajak Thai. (Sound familiar? It bears a distinct resemblance to the plot of The Bear.)

Since then, it’s been a Cinderella story for Pichetrungsi — quite fitting, for a former Imagineer — who not only kept Anajak Thai afloat during the worst years of the pandemic, but also catapulted the restaurant to national acclaim, snapping up all sorts of accolades, including a James Beard Award for Best Chef: California.

As one would expect, reservations at this 43-year-old neighborhood bistro are difficult to come by. Plus, with its three separate dining formats — à la carte service; walk-in only Thai Taco Tuesdays (TTT); and the monthly Thai Omakase — even figuring out when to go is half the strategy.

Luckily, in this edition of The One Who Keeps the Books, we got Pichetrungsi himself to divulge Anajak’s secrets for how to effectively snag a reservation, plus some intel on his favorite dishes … and why he thinks 4:00 p.m. is actually the best time for dinner.

Resy: Let’s start simple. How many seats are there at Anajak Thai? 

Pichetrungsi: The interior has 34 seats and the sidewalk in front of the restaurant has 20 seats. The alley has an additional 20. However, based on the day, there are different arrangements. On Fridays and Saturdays, we set up in the alley, on the sidewalk, and inside. Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Sundays, it’s the interior plus the sidewalk. And on Thai Taco Tuesdays (TTT), we’re only in the alley. The alley can change in capacity, but since we really pack it, right now it’s like 88 seats. 

How would you describe the Thai omakase to a newcomer? 

The omakase is a shared tasting; you get waves of dishes to share. It’s actually not too dissimilar from the way Atoboy [in New York] does their prix-fixe, but I wanted to embrace the spirit of Thai cuisine and Thai dining, in the sense that everyone wants to share everything. Multiple dishes come out at once, stuff’s mixing on the plate. I didn’t want to make it too formal — the food doesn’t taste good that way. We offer the omakase for one weekend at the end of the month. That’s interior-only, and it’s the whole dining room. 

How do reservations for the omakase work, versus à la carte? 

For the omakase, we announce the dates and release reservations on Resy two weeks before. Those get snapped up fast, but I do give people a small amount of time. I’ll be like, “I’m announcing the omakase dates on this day, set your notifications.” À la carte reservations drop 30 days out at 9:00 a.m. 

And for Thai Taco Tuesdays? 

It’s walk-in only. We don’t take reservations. Most people line up at around 5:00 p.m., 5:15 p.m. You order at the front with our server there, then diners are ushered to their seats, which can be anywhere in the alley. It’s just a bunch of plastic tables and chairs and heaters, and we’re cooking outside. 

What happens if it rains? 

TTT is rain or shine. If it’s raining, we move everyone inside. The capacity is dramatically reduced, but usually, the amount of people who come [on those days] is the exact number of people we can seat inside. It evens out. 

On other days, because we don’t leave room for walk-ins, we only deal with our reservations. I basically play weatherman on those days. We’re like meteorologists. If we see that it’s going to rain, we make the decision to either (1) move people to a different day, (2) move people inside, or (3) see if they’d like to cancel. And we always find something to offer them, either moving their table inside or moving them to another night. It’s a game of risk, and in an El Niño year, it is increasingly more and more of a logistical nightmare. 

Good order. Photo courtesy of Anajak Thai
Good order. Photo courtesy of Anajak Thai

How long is your Notify list on, say, a Friday night? 

The Notify list last Friday, I believe, was almost 500. 

Wow, that’s a lot. 

I can’t speak to other restaurants’ strategies, but for us, Resy is our sole reservation platform. Like, the Notify list works. People tell me all the time, Oh my god, I was on the Notify list, then I got a table! We’re so excited!” That makes me happy. 

Speaking from personal experience, I know that getting an omakase reservation is nearly impossible. Do you have any hot insider tips for snagging one? 

My only recommendation is to follow our Instagram. Oh, and to contact our reservationist, Hanna! Hiring her was one of the greatest gifts I’ve given to the restaurant, because now we have a reservationist to answer phones, Tuesday through Saturday, from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. She’s a very helpful resource, because she can see stuff other people can’t. 

You’ve been at the helm for five years now. And during that time, both you and the restaurant have skyrocketed! How has the success affected your experience at Anajak Thai? 

It’s been really exciting to watch many of our team members grow into management roles and start to teach the next wave of cooks and servers and front-of-house workers. Five years ago, the wine list was maybe around 60 strong, but now we have 500 wines on the list, and on any given night, we’ll have three sommeliers working the room. I don’t know any other restaurant that has three sommeliers on the floor. 

Pichtetrungsi in action at Thai Taco Tuesday. Photo by Pete Lee, courtesy of Anajak Thai
Pichtetrungsi in action at Thai Taco Tuesday. Photo by Pete Lee, courtesy of Anajak Thai

As the head chef and owner, you’re definitely qualified to answer this question: For someone going to Anajak Thai for the first time, what should they order? 

Everyone knows us for the Southern Thai fried chicken and caviar supplement. If you want to try something new, I recommend getting the grilled gai yang wings instead. It’s northeastern-style and really tasty. 

Also, my hot take is that crudos around the city are garbage. And I really like ours (kampachi served with palm sugar and lime). It’s a flavor bomb, and the way we treat and cut the fish is beautiful. It’s something I’m very proud of, and it’s a beautiful way to start. 

The grilled cabbage is also my favorite cabbage. It’s a highly underrated vessel for great flavors and textures. We do it with a garlic chutney on the grill, then baste it in coconut milk and finish it off with a little bit of housemade chile crisp. 

Anajak Thai is known for its ambience and its fantastic soundtrack — what’s new on the restaurant playlist? 

Thank you for asking! The playlist, created by my colleague Kelsey, starts off with one of our favorite Channel Tres songs, “Sexy Black Timberlake.” Then it goes into “Change the World” by Eric Clapton and a song that didn’t exist on Spotify but now does: “Roses are Red” by The Mac Band. To me, that’s the song of Anajak Thai. It’s so wholesome. 

Any advice for diners trying to figure out how to land a coveted seat? 

I always tell people to take the 4:00pm [reservation]. Go eat, digest, then go see a movie. Or go home and watch TV. Eat an ice cream! Maybe even go out for a second dinner. You’ve got the whole day ahead of you. Everyone wants this, like, 7:30pm slot and I’m like, No! That’s your whole night!” I always tell people, Please, go have an ice cream. Go have sex.” 

We’ve got our headline: “Justin Pichetrungsi of Anajak Thai says ‘Book an early reservation, eat ice cream, then have sex.’”

Exactly. Although, people will be like: You only serve mango sticky rice” [laughs].

Final question: Have there been any fun celebrity cameos at Anajak Thai? 

[Laughs] Oh my goodness. That’s so funny. One of my favorite recent ones was Rainn Wilson. He came in with someone he was working with, like a producer or manager or something, and he walked right up to me and said: Rainn Wilson. Has there ever been a star of my magnitude here?”

And he said it with such a straight, Dwight-like tone and face! [Laughs] I mean, it just f—ing got me. 

Kat Hong is a food writer living in Los Angeles. Follow her on Instagram or check out her very professional website. While you’re at it, follow Resy, too.