Thursday Lunch With the Mayor of Jitlada
Whenever anybody says that New York City is better than Los Angeles, one thing immediately pops into my head. Thai food. Sure, the Mexican food is awesome… but I’m kind of addicted to the Asian thing. And, for me, the Thai food alone is enough to make me feel pretty damn good about my decision to move back to L.A. And while there are little pockets of great Thai food all over SoCal, Thai Town in East Hollywood is still the mecca. They have everything you could want, with countless restaurants specializing in a few great dishes… like the spicy catfish at Ganda, the great dessert place next door, the Northern Thai food specialties of Spicy BBQ or Pailin Thai, and for those who want a show (but don’t care about the food) there’s Thai Elvis.
But if you want a Southern Thai feast, of epic proportions, from a restaurant with a menu that is the Thai equivalent of the Cheesecake Factory (how… do… they… do… it!?) then there is only one spot for you: Jitlada. And if you want to do lunch at Jitlada, everybody who is a huge fan will tell you the same thing- “talk to Jo. She goes every Thursday.” And so last Thursday I asked Jo (from My Last Bite) if she would show us how the “Mayor” of Jitlada recommends doing lunch. She agreed, and a crew was assembled of her friends just knowingly arrived to join us…
There are a few things you should know if you have never had lunch at Jitlada. #1. There is a regular menu, that looks very similar to most generic Thai restaurants you will find around the country. I’m sure Jitlada does great versions of dishes like Pad See Ew and Yellow curry… but if you want the food that makes Jitlada the king of L.A. Thai, you’ll want to stick (mostly) to the 2 pages of Southern Thai specialties. #2. There are a lot of them! So don’t get intimidated. For those first timers, Jo has created a Flickr Photo of essential first time dishes. It’s worth taking a look at. #3. Yes, I know. The Southern Thai dishes are almost all over $10, making much of this meal out of the ML price range… if you go by yourself! But that’s the thing. Going by yourself to Jitlada is the worst possible thing you could do. Which brings us to #4. Get a big group. If you order carefully you will be able to share a ton of food for close to $10. (Or at least stuff yourself silly while trying!)
Luckily we had Jo herself so ordering was no problem… (and now you do too!)
Jitlada is no hidden gem, and there are plenty of reviews of countless meals enjoyed at this place. And few of them don’t mention the crispy morning glory “salad” ($12.95). It’s as close a thing as there is to a must order, and for good reason. It’s Thai watercress (known as morning glory), battered and fried to a crunch, served with boiled shrimp, onions and a bunch of other stuff, and topped with fish sauce and lime juice. In a lot of ways it is the pefect Thai dish, combining all the elements of great Thai cuisine… crunch of the greens (look ma, I’m eating vegetables!) with the sweet funk of the fish sauce, acidity from the lime juice, and of course, the spiciness from the chilies. (We ended up getting two.)
The green curry mussels are also a typical first timers dish. The mussels are absolutely huuuuge, and the green curry broth is not fucking around…
… although for an actual green curry dish, the one with the flat noodles is the way to go. Jitlada’s curries are all made with fresh ingredients, and home-made pastes (unlike most Thai restaurants around the country, who use powders or jarred curry pastes.)
The soft shelled crab, covered in their house special curry sauce ($14.95), is another of Jo’s must try first timer dishes. The crab is chopped up into pieces, and has a heavy batter, making it easy to eat for the person who thinks soft shelled crab is a bit weird. It was pretty damn tasty…
… but I kind of preferred this catfish dish. It was fried in a similar batter, but came with this super spicy dipping sauce that was the straight up business! Could have dipped everything in that stuff.
Even Jo hasn’t tried everything on the menu, so every time she eats at Jitlada she tries something new. This week it was Kaeng Leuang Cha-Om Khai ($14.95), a hot and sour lemon soup served with an acacia leaf omelet and shrimp. Though not as challenging as some of the other dishes on the menu (I’m looking at you fish kidney curry) it’s not necessarily recommended for those of you taking your first steps beyond pad thai and “drunken noodles”. But for those of you who like the hot and sour parts of Thai cooking, and want a unique dish to balance out the sweeter dishes you order, this soup was completely delicious. I’m guessing we got it because of what The Guru casually said about it here.
In case you couldn’t tell, even at its most mild Jitlada can be spicy for some… so you’re obviously going to need one of these. Thai iced coffee or thai iced tea.
The general consensus is that Jitlada is the best Thai food restaurant in L.A. right now, and The Guru constantly seems on the verge of declaring it the best Thai restaurant in the country (if he hasn’t already.) I haven’t eaten enough Thai food outside of NYC and L.A. to say that, and there might be individual dishes from other restaurants you will like better than some dishes at Jitlada, but as a complete experience, it’s hard to see how any Thai food restaurant can top Jitlada right now. The menu is a site to behold, and the freshness of the ingredients is second to none. Don’t believe me? Go for lunch one Thursday and try for yourself. And tell Jo we said hi. I’m sure she’ll be there…
THE + (What somebody who does like this place would say)
- Everything great Thai food should be- sweet, savory, spicy, and sour.
- Everything is made using the freshest ingredients
- The menu is so crazy! You could eat there once a week for lunch for the rest of your life and never try every dish
- One of the best places for a big group lunch
THE – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- Too pricey. I like my Thai food super cheap!
- Sorry, I’m not ready to move beyond pad thai
- I don’t like things that are spicy
- I don’t like fried foods
- I don’t have enough friends to do lunch at Jitlada the right way
- The service is not the best (they would call it “relaxed”.) Be prepared to take a long lunch if it’s busy.
Jitlada, 5233 W Sunset Blvd (nr Harvard), 323-667-9809