Pailin Thai’s Off the Menu Northern Specialties Are Stellar
Ever since visiting Thailand a few years ago, Khao Soi has become one of my all time favorite dishes. The crunchy noodle topped curry dish, usually served with chicken, is a Northern thai specialty- so you won’t find it at most Thai restaurants (unless the owners are from the North.) I love it so much that I had the version from Spicy BBQ as my very first Midtown Lunch here in L.A. (Spoiler Alert: It was awesome.)
So last week you can imagine how surprised I was to see the blog Sinosoul call the khao soi at Spicy BBQ an “atrocity”. After all it came recommended by “The Guru” himself. And I thought it was pretty damn good. Hyperbole aside (I can assure you the khao soi at Spicy BBQ is not an atrocity) the comment was in the context of a pretty stellar review of the noodles from Pailin Thai. And even though Tony “Mr. Sinosoul” C. is fairly acerbic, a known contrarian, and loathed by many of his contemporaries, I felt like if he found Spicy BBQ to be atrocious Pailin’s khao soi must be the second coming of Jeebus.
Only one way to find out.
Pailin Thai has gotten some decent reviews on Yelp, but it is fairly under the radar compared to the recently hot Thai Town spots like Spicy BBQ, Pa-Ord, Ganda, and, of course, Jitlada. It has no Thai Elvis to draw in the crowds at night, there’s a giant B in the window, and it is just outside the main strip of Thai Town. But the biggest thing holding them back is the fact that even though the chef is from the Northern part of Thailand, the khao soi isn’t even on the menu! It’s one of three off the menu Northern Thai specialties that you have to know to ask for specially.
As promised the Khao Soi was pretty stellar. A generous helping of crispy egg noodles on top, a soggy handful of boiled egg noodles in the broth, it was sweet but not too sweet and was clearly made from fresh curry paste instead of powder. It came with all the necessary ad ons including red onions, and pickled veggies for that bit of sour-ness, plus a squirt of lime for acidity. I can’t say for sure whether or not it was better than Spicy BBQ (after all that was my first plate of of Thai food upon moving back to L.A., and I had become used to the dumbed down Thai food of Manhattan) but either way it was delicious (and I can say with certainty that it is far better than the versions at Sri Siam in North Hollywood, or Renu Nakorn in Norwalk.)
We decided to also try the khanom jiin nam ngiao, one of the other off the menu Northern Thai specialties at Pailin Thai. I’ve never tried this dish, so I have no basis for comparison- but I was really down. The khao soi packed a nice heat, but after a few bites of this noodle dish the other dish seemed wussy in comparison. The broth doesn’t have coconut milk, so it’s far lighter than the khao soi- but the ground pork gives it a nice complex flavor, and the heat burns the back of your throat as it goes down. It’s also served with the same condiments as the khao soi, and you should add them all. The coolness of the pickles and sprouts are a necessary contrast to the heat of the meaty broth. From the looks of this article, Pailin’s is more soupy than it should be, but it didn’t bother me. And it even had the dried kapok flower (at least I think that’s what it was), imported from Thailand, which the owner assured as was the key ingredient to making an authentic version of this dish.
Ground pork and bits of stewed on the bone pork meat isn’t the only protein in this “meat sauce”. It also has pig’s blood, which makes the dish a bit more “challenging” than the khao soi (which is pretty easy to love for anybody). Whatever you do, don’t let your squemish side get the best of you. Pig’s blood is one of the surprisingly least offensive forms of offal, tasting almost like tofu. (See, even vegetarians would like it!) I probably would have liked the spaghetti shaped rice noodles more if there was less broth (they got way to mushy in the soup) but that’s really my only complaint. This dish might be too unfamiliar for Thai food neophytes… but if you’re looking for something different, and you love ground pork, this could be one of the best bowls of food in all of Los Angeles.
So it just goes to show… hyperbole can sometimes be effective. A standard review of Pailin Thai could have easily been overlooked. Call my favorite Khao Soi “atrocious” and less than a week later I’m sitting in Thai Town slurping two of the best bowls of noodles I’ve ever had. Maybe I should adopt this new tactic to motivate you guys…
Go to Pailin Thai. It’s sooooo much better than the garbage they serve at Jitlada.
(I kid, Jitlada. I kid.)
Pailin Thai, 5621 Hollywood Blvd (nr. Western), 323-467-6775