There are two things that can always make me lose any pretense I have about trying to save money. The first thing is, as you would expect, really good food. The second thing is concerts.
So when I have an opportunity to see a band live and also eat really well, I jump at it. Who wouldn’t? Last week, I saw Two Door Cinema Club live. Whatever you think of their musical prowess, that band can put on a perfectly respectable show. And it’s a good thing, too, because I basically dropped my entire TSL salary on that concert.
But as fun as the concert was, it was not a demonstration of genius. The food at Jitlada was. Jitlada, situated in Los Angeles’s Thaitown, is now considered one of the best Thai spots in the U.S., receiving praise from several famous critics and an appearance on the Food Network’s “Best Thing I Ever Ate.”
You may find Thai food as good as Jitlada’s, but it would be very difficult to find somewhere definitively better without making the flight to Bangkok. Last year I wrote a column on Renu Nakorn, which is LA’s other elite representation of authentic Thai food. But the drive from campus to Renu Nakorn is a solid 35 to 40 minutes, and I grudgingly realize that only the most dedicated will make that drive. Jitlada is farther, but it’s in Hollywood, a couple blocks down from the Hollywood Palladium, a famous concert venue that regularly features bands like, say, Two Door Cinema Club.
An important note about Jitlada: it has very spicy food. L.A. Times food critic Jonathan Gold titled the review of his article “Flame War” and proceeded to write that the khua kling phat tha lung (“beef curry” in English) in “its purest form is spicy enough to melt the bark off a log.” I’m not going to attempt to describe it better than that. Can you get your dishes mild? Yes. Will they taste really good? Yes. Will they be authentic? No. If you want to get the Jitlada experience, ask for everything Thai-style.
When the khua kling phat tha lung came to my table, I mentally prepared myself for a potentially traumatizing experience, but the beef was surprisingly tolerable. I was disappointed. I was confused. But then I realized that they probably just toned down the spice for me.
I asked the waiter if this was how he eats his khua kling phat tha lung, and he laughed. There’s a scene in Game of Thrones where Old Nan looks at Bran and says, “Oh, my sweet summer child. What do you know of fear?” That was the same look this waiter gave me. But he took the dish back to the kitchen, where they ramped it up, Thai-style, and brought it back to us.
It took some time and a healthy mixture of pain and pleasure, but I eventually ate that entire dish. I’d like to think that the waiter got over the humor of the situation and felt some glimmer of respect for the ambitious American who tackled the khua kling phat tha lung.
But, as spicy as it was, that wasn’t the best dish at Jitlada by a long shot. This was an absurdly good meal. If I had to do it all over again—and I will at some point—I would start off with the mango salad, which is Jitlada’s phenomenal twist on the popular Thai papaya salad. The Songkhia-style rice salad was almost as good, and, most importantly, provided essential relief from spicy curries.
Which spicy curries should you get? If you’re willing to get over the fact that you’re eating fish kidney, you should get the fish kidney curry. If you’re not, go for the creamed spinach and catfish curry. Actually, you should get that anyway.
Of the not-so-spicy dishes, the Food Network would say that you should order the crying tiger beef. I agree. It’s a dish reminiscent of Korean barbecue, and I mean that in the best way possible. You could also go for what is perhaps Jitlada’s most famous dish: mussels bathed in a satisfying green curry broth.
If you can convince yourself to stay away from the pad thai and satay—Jitlada offers them for whatever reason—and go straight for the hard-to-get Southern-style Thai food, it’s hard to go wrong on this menu. I’d also recommend digesting at the Hollywood Palladium.
5233 West Sunset Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90027