Let's Do Lunch: Jitlada

There are some great lunches to be had in this town, and we want to celebrate the midday meal. So, let's do lunch, shall we?

My love affair with Jitlada started by proxy, when back in 2007 LAist took on the task of writing up every restaurant in LA's Thai Town, and then I got to try some of their amazing dishes outside the restaurant at last year's Songkran (Thai New Year) celebration.

Knowing that Jitlada was a popular dinnertime draw, and one that draws raves from other chefs, celebs, and savvy local eaters, I seemed fated to never make it there. Even more daunting is the fact that they have over 300 items on the menu, some of which are epically spicy—the stuff local legends are made of.

I will admit that I have a secret weapon, though, in the form of local food blogger My Last Bite, who happens to be donating her time and photog skills to help out with the restaurant's website, and her own project of eating every item on the menu. Like the slices of chilly cucumber served next to Jitlada's roaring, spicy dishes, I needed a friendly hand to get me to the table and to help me discover some of the wonders of Jitlada's fresh, authentic, and delicious food.

Lunchtime at Jitlada is ideal because there's no wait for a table, and you can set your pace. Order just a couple of dishes for a shorter workday lunch, or, if you've got the day off, gather up some friends and make a lengthy feast of it. Erring on the "lengthy feast" side of things, we let owner Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong and her brother, Chef Suthiporn “Tui” Sungkamee show off their stuff, as they brought us a progression of dishes aimed at delighting our palates.

Spice is definitely a consideration here, as in "how much can you take?" If you can't take the heat, or need to forgo the meat and stay veggie, they will accommodate you. It was fun to take note of how the different dishes revealed their level of heat in varying ways. A seafood soup was a steady warmth, while the dry curry was a sneaky, slow onslaught of hot. Some dishes left the spicing up to you, like the Thai sausage plate where it was up to each of us to assemble bites of meat, chilies, nuts, and vegetables.

There is great joy in all of the dishes we tried during lunch at Jitlada, partly because of the naturally buoyant atmosphere courtesy of Jazz's positive, thoughtful, and smiling demeanor and the friendly staff, and partly because of the care that goes into making the dishes, from consideration to authenticity, selecting the freshest ingredients (sometimes right out of Jazz's own garden), and assembling plates that are colorful and appealing.

Thai is a cuisine that, for many, has been reduced to a very Americanized and limited menu of comfortable standards (think Pad Thai) that might lead diners to believe there isn't much range--there's noodles, meat, peanuts, spice, some basil, and not much else. Jitlada's offerings will shatter that urban myth in a heartbeat, from your first bite of Crispy Morning Glory Salad (Deep-Fried Chinese Watercress w/ Shrimp & Spicy House Dressing) to the staggering sight of the Plaa Thawt Mamuang (Deep fried sea bass smothered in spicy sweet chili mango sauce).

Not everyone is fortunate enough to head to Jitlada with a savvy fellow diner who can help navigate the menu (though if it's your first time you can take My Last Bite's suggestion of what to eat), but here the reward for bravery is a tasty experience.