>> Jitlada | Eat the World Los Angeles

Wednesday 9 January 2019


Photo courtesy of Jitlada.com

EDITOR'S NOTE: An updated version of this article (05 January 2024) is available as part of the Free Friday Favorites section of our Substack page. Check that out here:

I can still remember the first time I read Dana Goodyear's profile of Jonathan Gold in the New Yorker at the end of 2009. By the last few paragraphs of the uplifting article, I had to read about Jitlada and its owner Jazz with a vision blurred by my own tears. With such strong feelings towards entrepreneurs from all over the world in New York City, it was easy to feel so much for Los Angeles through his heart and stomach. Up until that day, I had been harboring ill will towards L.A. based on stereotypes and brief interactions years before, but these stories and this great man made something click and probably started a series of events that would eventually lead to living in Los Angeles a decade later.

This beautiful part of Los Angeles had always been there, championed by people like Jonathan Gold. It was me that had changed and now could be open enough to realize my mistake. It took six years before I would finally meet Jazz in 2015, but when I did she welcomed me and my Thai partner into Jitlada as if she had known us since she moved to town.

And besides some of the best cooking of your life, that is the magic of Jitlada, a Thai restaurant in East Hollywood that specializes in the fiery favorites of Southern Thailand.

While not necessarily a southern dish, yum pak boong grob (above) is a salad of fried water morning glory that is done better nowhere else. The dish becomes essential as other spicy plates and bowls start to surround you. The deep-fried vegetable is crispy and covered in a sauce that is sour, and a bit sweet.

One must try for any southern Thai meal is gang lueng pla (above), a sour yellow fish curry that is unlike all the other tastes in your life up until this point. The sourness hits you right away, while the chili peppers take a little bit of time to settle into each part of your mouth. Eat this with ample portions of rice and if you ordered it spicy (as it should be), take your time.
For more tastes you can only get in the south, try one of a few dishes that include sator, a small green bean that is usually translated as "stinky." This pad sator (below) is a stir fry including squid and ground pork, and if possible ratchets up the heat levels even more.

On that first visit to Jitlada back in 2015 there was one simple mistake made between our table and the kitchen, and that was either Jazz accidentally telling the chef, her late brother Tui, that the dishes should be made at their highest level, or him hearing this despite her warnings. I do not mind high spice levels, and even enjoy the struggle that is sometimes involved when eating foods beyond my high capacity. I do it happily on every visit to Thailand.

My partner's limit is a few levels down from mine, so we put in a request for nothing that would kill her. What arrived was far different though, full of heat that hit us both like a brick wall. With the two previous dishes, the kua kling (below) was the last straw.

This dish of dry roasted curry paste with ground pork was off the charts. In the past I have fought through spicy foods to climb to what I have always considered a sort of plateau, a place that once reached everything seemed to level out and become easier. It never came.

So on the way to getting to that plateau, the lights went out. But I could not think of a better meal or place to experience it! And don't worry, you can have a long conversation about your limits and come up with a plan to make the food to your taste. That being said, this is certainly not a place to eat if you do not enjoy spicy foods, for the versions that are toned down too much do not do justice to the original concepts.

Another dish to help with your interior heat levels is pad pak boong (above), sauteed water morning glory in oyster sauce. It may have started out off the menu, but the special Jazz burger (below) is now advertised throughout the restaurant and common knowledge for regular customers. Basically, it is a grilled meat patty that contains everything wonderful about the restaurant, served without any bun.

If you make it this far, sit back and relax, enjoy the place and its atmosphere. Jazz will have no doubt come to you by now if you have not struck up a conversation already. Read some of the praise all over the walls and on the tables. There is a lot of love within these walls, both from the people that welcome you in and from those that keep returning and love it right back.


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