Following up on weeks of immaterial puffy posts is a Thai restaurant that’s is so unrecognized, yet so near my heart. LA’s greatful Saveur chose to feature Ganda in the LA issue, but let us move the focal point a few blocks West on Hollywood Blvd and talk about Pailin.
There is much broohaha over Pa-Ord right now. Everyone’s tapping it like it’s Jenna Jameson hole. It’s cheap, it’s salty. It’s “Hot On Yelp“, and really, once you get the masses there, it’s all over. Last week, Mr. Gold dished up Pa-ORD’s kway tiaw reua (boat noodle with stuff). The same kway tiaw reua that has served as the crux of various Thai Town noodle shops (NTT, Sapp, ad nausea) for years. Everyone comments on how spicy this noodle soup continues to be. That’s it, it’s a spicy bowl of noodles. But can it be more than just spicy? It was easy to like Ord, and it looks even easier to truly love Pa-Ord, but really, that’s a one dish show. Kway teow reua (transliterated by Erik M) may rule the roost, but it rules me not, thought I like it lots. After further eating, Pa-Ord might be a 2 dish pony with the hoy-kha, but again, can we eat past the precursory?
Clockwise: Khao soi, khao soi, kway chap, yen ta fo –
This is the Thai version of Burma’s “ohn no khaut swe”. Burma is close to North Thailand, not Issan Thailand. Guess where the head cook of Pailin’s from? Northern Thailand. O yes, this is the best bowl of khao soi in LA. It’s thick with coconut cream fat and pungent and yellowed by turmeric powder. There are flat crispy noodle bits, there are soft eggy noodle bits, there is a pile of pickled Chinese mustard greens, and the assemblage peeps out of the curry punched with red chili paste like a volcano about to erupt into your mouth. It’s good, it’s far better than the atrocity at Spicy Thai BBQ.
Khanom Jiin Nam Ngiao
This is the North’s other signature dish. Everyone loves Khao Soi, but sometimes the coconut fat is just too much for farang stomach. I am not aware of this dish served elsewhere in LA. Please comment below if you do know of others. Surely Yai Thai on Hollywood should serve this, but I’ve always had trouble spewing pathetically pronounced dishes at Yai. Traditionally, this “pasta” dish is served in a deep plate barely topped with a piggy broth, with accoutrements on the side. Here at Pailin, a shallow bowl is used, but the effect is the same. Once the julienned vegetables are tossed into the lukewarm broth (no pho effect should be expected), this bowl, involving ground pork, fried garlic, pork blood cubes, can be tuned to carry one’s individual sour and spice level with the remaining lime & dried chili peppers.
For a “light” bowl of noodles lower on the glutamates, salt and curry scale, go for the khanom jiin nam ngiao, but don’t ask for the menu. It ain’t there.
Yen Ta Fo
So sour, so tingly, so garlicky, so spicy (if you wish). It looks of innocent pink that Hello Kitty would approve. This is such a flexible dish and it’s packed with every flavor (including 5th, and 6th – spicy isn’t a flavor, blah blah blah, yes I know). The pink is from fermented red bean paste. The sour is from the liberal use of lime juice, sweetness is provided by palm sugar, and fire.. Well, it’s Thai food. They daydream of ways to add spiciness that we can never possibly imagine. Wide flat sheets of rice noodles are broken into pieces, then topped with spinach, finished off with sliced fish cake, white wood ears 白木耳 (snow fungus), and more pig blood cubes (caveat emptor: nearly every noodle soup dish seems to sport “lueat” – blood – at Pailin). It’s once again, Southern Chinese, but slightly Emeriled.
Rice noodle sheets, fried tofu, large intestine, small intestine, char siu, chiccharones, pig blood, pork tenderloin, dark soy.
This is really a Thai version of: “Teochew dish of flat, broad rice sheets in a soup made with dark soy sauce, served with pig offal, braised duck meat” that is sweetened by 5 spice, dominated by anise, cinnamon, topped with garlic fried shallots(?), cilantro, green onions. Random sheets of rice noodle sheets roll up into tight cheong fun sticks, resulting in multiple noodle textures. Some spoonfuls transports rice noodle sheets (all randomly hand ripped) that serve as soup carriers, others yield cheong fun rolls that are soft and chewy, carrying pure riciness for the carb whores.
Every bowl of noodles is under $7. Every bowl is made by Andy’s wife (from a town near Chiang Mai) and her helpers. There is no cheating here. The khao soi brims with coconut flavors, the fishballs are hand formed (unlike Ord/Pa-Ord). There is no youthful funk instilled by sons and daughters ala Wat Dong Moon Lek Noodle. There is no social media, though there is the perpetual movie of the week on the tellie. This isn’t a hole in the wall by my standards; Pailin is clean, the room isn’t in a disarray, neither is the service. While the hellaciously small kitchen is efficient, there is no sense of harried rush. In essence, this may be the most perfect (mom & pop or otherwise) Thai restaurant in LA, devoid of fusion gimmick, devoid of mass production, devoid of fanboism (except yours truly), but featuring a (slowly) rotating un-translated Thai menu smack in the center.
Part II to come: Pailin beyond noodles – fried intestine, best soop nor mai in town, kaeng kaeng kaeng!
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