Larchmont’s oldest restaurant location still going strong

| November 1, 2018 | 2 Comments

CUSTOMERS Dr. Mark Chilingar, Richard Craigo and Dr. George V. Chilingar enjoy lunch at Chan Dara.
Photo by Talia Abrahamson

Running on 36 years, Chan Dara has witnessed over three decades of Larchmont’s transformations, making it the longest-lived restaurant on the boulevard.

Bhasuwongse (“Vavy”) and Sukhum (“Ken”) Kittivech opened the neighborhood Thai restaurant in 1983. They bought the 310 N. Larchmont Blvd. lot the year before from Vartkes and Alice Anivian, who had been leasing the property to a Japanese country restaurant, and before that a French restaurant, La Tremiere, that opened in 1978, making this location the longest continually operating restaurant on the Boulevard. [See the Chronicle’s 1978 restaurant review on p. 6. -Ed.] After 11 months of remodel to the building’s interior, the Kittivechs opened their Larchmont location of Chan Dara. Its sister Thai restaurant, Chan Darae, opened in 1976 on Cahuenga Boulevard [just north of Sunset Boulevard, now closed].

“My first partner and I, when we opened that first location, and business was very good, we looked for another location close by. We found this place for sale. We own the building. My partner and I, the first one, thought it was a good opportunity to get here,” Vavy Kittivech said.

At the time, the Kittivechs, Thai natives, were living in Northridge. They moved into Hancock Park shortly after opening the Larchmont location as they fell in love with the community supporting their restaurant.

“This area is a very old area, and the restaurant looked like a little house. That’s what I like — very unique and homey,” Vavy Kittivech said.

Ken Kittivech passed away in 2006, but in 2000, Vavy hired chef Buzz Fukutomi as her co-partner. Fukutomi is a trained baker who graduated from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school.

Most of their Thai cooking has remained the same since the restaurant’s founding. Customer favorites, such as tom yum goong (a hot and sour shrimp soup), and the chicken basil and chili, have the same flavors as over 30 years ago.

Similarly, most of their customer base consists of repeat customers. Dr. George V. Chilingar has frequented the establishment since its first year.

“This is the best Thai restaurant in town. The best. I come here day and night,” Chilingar said. “It’s improving all the time, and I think the owners are super.”

As much as Chan Dara has stayed the same, Fukutomi and Kittivech also believe that the restaurant should evolve with their customers’ changing tastes and preferences. As a result, the menu now includes many more seafood options, like the grilled Chilean sea bass and seafood paella.

“We’re just a neighborhood place. [We] produce quality products, stay consistent, don’t try to cut corners. The profit margin is a lot lower, but it’s better just to keep people happy. We’ve been here long enough,” Fukutomi said.

“We try to create all good food and good ambience as contributions to the community. We love Larchmont. Hopefully the people on Larchmont love us also. It’s a give-and-take,” Kittivech said.

The largest change to occur at the restaurant will be Kittivech’s retirement. She is planning to transfer control of Chan Dara to Fukutomi, marking the end of an era for the establishment’s original owners.

Others with tenure

Chan Dara will remain, however, the neighborhood’s homey Thai restaurant, and the Boulevard’s oldest restaurant.

Marking its 30th anniversary this year, Le Petit Greek is the second-oldest restaurant on the boulevard. Owners Tom and Dimitri Houndalas opened the Greek restaurant at 127 N. Larchmont Blvd. as an extension of their family’s culinary business. The restaurant grew from 10 tables in 1988 to include their signature outdoor patio in 1997, and they now continue to expand their volume through the rise of “to go” orders from direct calls and delivery services.

Javier Prado opened Prado in 1991 at 224 N. Larchmont Blvd. Through its 27 years, Prado has changed its menu items, including new empanada, enchilada and paella recipes, but maintained its distinctive Caribbean-cuisine flavors.

“In the last few years, Larchmont has changed to a more younger crowd. But a lot of older people like my food,” Prado said. “I guess because it’s a family restaurant. My son and I, we run it, and with some other people in the kitchen, we’re like a family.”

Former favorites

In what is now Erin McKenna’s Bakery at 236 N. Larchmont Blvd., Café Chapeau used to whip up coffee and fried eggs. The coffee shop and casual diner welcomed residents with a collection of hats hanging on the wall and fast and filling comfort food. That location had previously been the Han–Lene Village Coffee Shop, which was the successor to what well may have been the Boulevard’s first dining establishment, the Windsor Village Coffee Shop.

Replacing Mrs. Paone’s catering business at 225 N. Larchmont Blvd., Girasole cooked up gnocchi, ravioli and farfalle. Owner Ermanno Tolot and the Tolot family ran the Italian café until 2014 and handed over the space to the Vernetti family, which kept much of the same staff and favorite menu items when it opened in 2015.

From 1997 to 2010, brothers Serge and Roland Peri and their cousin Jerome Peri ran Café Du Village, a quaint French restaurant at 139 N. Larchmont Blvd., which had a small back patio. Café du Village’s predecessor was Daryl Trainor Twerdahl’s popular Village Catering Company, which also had eat-in tables in its space that previously housed Peter Dennis Catering.

La Luna closed its doors in 2007 at 113 N. Larchmont Blvd., where Le Pain Quotidien now operates for breakfast and lunch. La Luna was a popular neighborhood trattoria that served authentic Italian dishes. Renaissance paintings covered the walls, and wood chairs and candlelit tables provided a certain cozy ambiance.

Today’s Larchmont restaurants and their predecessors are a part of providing the homey, neighborhood feel so appreciated by all their customers.

By Talia Abrahamson, a junior at Marlborough School.

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Category: People

Comments (2)

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  1. E Arias says:

    After reading this interesting and thorough article about Larchmont’s historical record of the boulevard’s restaurants I was taken aback that it was compiled by a student from a local school. Great job!

  2. TONY says:

    How could you be so sure about this? Have you been on Yelp? Do you know Buzz Fukutomi and his background check? You’ve lost your mind for posting this.

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