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Chef Jet on Thai Town, Bangkok Market, and LA's Best Pancakes

LA's Chef Jet Tila on growing up in the "first family" of Thai food and how his culinary heritage inspires his latest restaurant projects.

Chef Jet Tila has gone from working in his family's grocery store to launching a restaurant in a luxury Las Vegas property, battling an Iron Chef and breaking new ground in Pan-Asian cuisine and along the way. The 39-year old credits his "birth luck" of being born into the "first family" of Thai food for his success. On this day, he retraces his culinary heritage through the city he calls home, Los Angeles.

Jet Tila kisses his 19-month old daughter, Amaya, while his wife, Ali, looks on in their Los Angeles home. "It’s so important [Amaya] knows her heritage," said Tila. "Being Thai Chinese/ European she’ll soon attend Thai Sunday School and take some form of Chinese Immersion."Ann Johansson for NBC News
An estimated 100,000 Thais live in Los Angeles and Southern California, comprising the largest Thai population in the world outside of Thailand. In 1999, the Los Angeles City Council officially designated a neglected section of East Hollywood as "Thai Town." Today, the area houses more than 60 Thai businesses. "The streets that I grew up on have transformed into something great! They were a lot tougher and less delicious when I was a kid," said Tila. "I think about the plight of Thai Americans and the hardship my parents endured to create a life for us. But mostly I feel pride, pride to have a hand in creating Thai Town."Ann Johansson for NBC News
Jet Tila takes a photograph with two fans in Los Angeles' Thai Town. Tila regularly appears on cooking shows and hosts his own radio show in LA, but says he's still not accustomed to being recognized by strangers. "I’ll never get used to it," said Tila. "My journey has been such a humble one and to be recognized now is just weird. I’m honored of course but I don’t think I’ll ever get used it."Ann Johansson for NBC News
Tila's family came to the United States from Thailand in 1966 and opened Bangkok Market in 1972. For families in the area and chefs seeking traditional, Asian ingredients, the market served for years as one of the only sources of authentic, harder-to-find elements. "Coming from a small family business means my entire family has spent countless hours there working together. Probably more time than we ever did at home," said Tila. "We’ve laughed, cried, shared meals, suffered loss, all things families go through within four walls. I literally grew up there. I learned how to butcher, cut produce, stock shelves, understand ingredients and flavors there."Ann Johansson for NBC News
Jet Tila visits the future site of Stir Market in Los Angeles with business partner Bryan Libit. Along with partner Mimi Mok, Tila plans to open the restaurant in August 2014. "It’s not only about the food, but always a fun challenge to create fun and interesting concepts," said Tila. "It keeps me stimulated to be creating. I feel like I've got many years and many more concepts in me."Ann Johansson for NBC News

--All photos and video by Ann Johansson for NBC News.