Jitlada: Still the best, haters be damned

Here’s my review of our dinner at Jitlada in late December (pictures and details on what we ate are in the slideshow on the blog).

Last October brought the terrible news of the passing of Chef Tui Sungkamee. Along with his sister Jazz Singsanong, Chef Sungkamee ran what has probably been the greatest Thai restaurant in the United States for the last decade. She runs the front of the house and remains the face of Jitlada; he was the unassuming presence in the kitchen whose cooking introduced so many of us to the flavours and ingredients of southern Thai cooking; and even through its intense heat, made us understand how nuanced and subtle Thai food can be. A major loss but our meal there in December—intended as a paying of respects—allows us to believe that his legacy and the restaurant will survive. It was another excellent meal and made us kick ourselves for having waited four years since our last visit to go back.

There was a time when we ate at Jitlada on every trip to Los Angeles, sometimes more than once. But sometime around my last review we decided to branch out and eat at more places in Thai Town. I don’t really regret that decision per se—it didn’t lead to a single bad meal. But our meal in December underlined that Jitlada remains the best in Thai Town, even if it’s somewhat old-fashioned now to say so—foodies, alas, are very prone to moving on to “new discoveries”, and Jitlada’s higher prices and mainstream acclaim seem sometimes to count against it among the internet foodie set. Well, given that it had been 4.5 years since our last meal, I’m probably not one to talk. Anyway, I think we’re going to be coming back a lot more regularly on our future visits.

We were joined at this meal by Sku and his family. As I’ve said before, they are among our absolute favourite people to eat out with: their appetites and tastes match ours well and I guess they’re decent company too (on average anyway). Somehow, despite actually living in Los Angeles, and only a 15 minute drive away, this was their first time at Jitlada, but I have a feeling it won’t be their last. Since it was very far from our first visit they left the ordering up to us. We went for a mix of some old favourites and some dishes we hadn’t tried before—the only constraints being the need to order a couple of things our brats could eat (though they eat spicier food than the average Minnesotan, they’re not up to Jitlada heat yet) and that would not cause to much pain to a teenaged member of Clan Sku who’d just had her wisdom teeth taken out.

What did we eat? Launch the slideshow to find out and to see what we thought of it all. Scroll down for thoughts on price etc.


Mango/blue crab salad
Jitlada omlette
Crispy morning glory with shrimp
Chicken satay (for our brats)
Crying tiger beef
Koong pear
Southern mussels curry
Southern crispy pork

Panang curry tofu (for a teenager whose wisdom teeth had just come out)
Wonton soup (ditto)]

Not pictured above is a wonton soup we added on for the benefit of the wisdom tooth extraction-affected member of the group. All of this plus a few beers and soft drinks and tax and tip came to about $205. Which is both a lot more than the average Thai Town restaurant’s bill would be and a steal for the quality of the food and how unique it still is. Service is still as spotty and harried as it’s always been but really, who gives a fuck?

And it was just great to see the place as packed as ever. We got there at 6 (on a Tuesday evening) and within 15 minutes of our sitting down the place was jammed. When we left at 8 there was a big crowd waiting patiently outside. The good news—and further testament to his greatness—is that Chef Tui has obviously trained the kitchen well. Jitlada remains one of Los Angeles’ great restaurants and if you haven’t been yet or, like us, have been ignoring them for a few years, you owe it to yourself to go and eat there. We’ll be back on our next trip for sure, not just to pay tribute to Chef Tui but because they’re still putting out amazing food.

Next up on the food front: non-South East Asian food in St. Paul and dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley.


the $14 pad thai is where it’s at.

1 Like

With a menu that voluminous and aimed at so many different types of diners, you can’t expect everything to be good. And if you go to Jitlada as a foodie to eat pad Thai then…

That said, their chicken satay and panang curry are pretty damned good!

IMHO, it was all about the pumpkin and soft-shell crab curry. :slight_smile:

For me, it wasn’t the price that led to me not going anymore. It was the service (and distance).

1 Like

I won’t lie: the service has sometimes annoyed me as well in the past; but the positives far outweigh the negatives.

As for distance: when you’ve already come all the way from Minnesota…

Actually, Koreatown–where we always put up–is the perfect place to be for access to most of the stuff we like to eat (20-30 minutes in any direction).

No one in Thailand scoffs at or ridicules Pad Thai. If Jitlada is legit, the Pad Thai is worth ordering.


I’m not scoffing at pad Thai–I’m just noting that dishes like pad Thai are not Jitlada’s calling card or what anyone says makes them special. Therefore to discount them on that basis is in my view odd. Especially for foodies who typically are very tuned into the idea of going to particular places to try particular things.

If a restaurant wants to be proclaimed as the best, have some respect for what you’re putting on the menu. Not everyone is on eGullet to research 10 year old posts on best dishes to order at Jitlada

Also, reading between the lines, I guess people who aren’t foodies shouldn’t go to Jitlada because that menu is a fucking minefield. FWIW, I took a work group to Jitlada and my coworker ordered pad thai. That was when I vowed never to take a lunch group there again - not because my coworker ordered pad thai, but because I talked the place up and then Jitlada made me look like a jackass.

1 Like

I don’t know if Jitlada wants to be proclaimed as the best; I’m proclaiming them the best, and about 50% just to be provocative.

But: I find the response to “their pad thai wasn’t great” to be disproportionate. I once got the green curry at Isaan Station and it was pedestrian at best. But if I’d used that as a basis for denouncing the restaurant (back when it was still flavour of the week and people talked about them) I would rightly have been told that I had missed the point.

And plenty of people who aren’t foodies go to Jitlada and enjoy it. But it’s odd for foodies who know what makes them special (the last two pages of the menu) to be so negative about them for something else.

I still don’t understand which dishes I’m supposed to eat that warrant the vast price difference to the surrounding Thai restaurants I already frequent AND won’t cause an immediate ulcer.

1 Like

And at an even more expensive point on the price spectrum, consider also the high esteem in which people here continue to hold n/naka despite report after report indicating that their sushi–an integral part of their tasting menu–is not up to par. Yet, one bad pad Thai at Jitlada should be enough to denounce them even though it’s only one of literally hundreds of things on their menu.

1 Like

After the aforementioned trip with coworkers, I went with SinoSoul himself and a few other people (some of which still post on this board…) and let him order. The food was just okay for me, but the entire package was below par. The only dish there that blew my mind was the coco mango salad thing.

I didn’t really think my two nigiri sessions @ n/naka were below par, but I’ve also never done a $250 omakase to compare. I’m just a pleb, so the nigiri was fine for me.

To wrap this up, I bring up the pad thai because it’s hilarious to me, but I don’t go to Jitlada because they serve a $14 pad thai that’s shit - I don’t go to Jitlada because I never found the food to be truly compelling, the service sucks, the ambiance sucks, and the prices are high.

1 Like

When Jitlada comes up, I get the sense that somehow, “the greater fool” theory is in play.

We first ate at Jitlada in early 2008 well before the price hike. Even though the price hike when it happened was steep and a shock it’s not seemed out of whack to me given the quality and uniqueness of much of the menu. Not much more (if that) than a meal at the Cheesecake Factory.

When Jitlada comes up on FTC, I get the sense that their greatest sins are a) that they get a lot of recognition from mainstream diners and b) that their prices are higher than what’s acceptable for “ethnic” cuisine.

1 Like

I disagree about the food, don’t care about the ambience (and am surprised that anyone does or that they don’t mention it for any of the other luminaries in Thai Town), and think the prices are high relatively but not for what they serve. And though the service can be bad it’s again no worse or not much worse than the average Thai Town or SGV place.

But fair enough: you don’t like it.

Luv2Eat >

1 Like

The problem I experienced with the prices was that, besides the truly neglectful service and that afterthought of an eating room, the (lack in the) quality of some ingredients made the prices a real “fuck you.” A lot of Thai places in LA suffer from what a lot of ethnic places suffer from in general: mediocre ingredients. The magic comes in the mastery of preperation. I think Jitlada’s menu size only makes things far more challenging than they have to be. No legit Asian eatery offers such a broad menu because they know their limits.

Pok Pok got a lot of flak for their prices. I felt the prices were fine. The service was “white folks” level, the dining areas were fun (reminiscent of a lot of eateries in Thailand) and clean, and the ingredients were first rate. A cocktail program to boot. Unlike the average to questionable quality of seafood we got at Jitlada, all of the seafood at Pok Pok was superb.

Also, I not only appreciated Ricker’s approach in using first rate ingredients he was quite capable at adjusting some traditional dishes with ingredients found here (his Som Tom where he added persimmons and apples is still talked about in our home). No one in our home talks about Jitlada.


You make a good point…

Not regarding Jitlada specifically, but, when I’m trying a place for the first time myself and the menu might be a bit unconventional (or might not do conventional items particularly well), I tend to shy away from taking a group b/c it’s really hard to accommodate everyone’s taste. I really only try “interesting” places w/ 2-3 friends whose tastes I know pretty well. Sad, perhaps, but true.

but they’re not charging like the average thai town or SGV place. with higher menu prices come expectations.

Not regarding Jitlada specifically, but, when I’m trying a place for the first time myself and the menu might be a bit unconventional (or might not do conventional items particularly well), I tend to shy away from taking a group b/c it’s really hard to accommodate everyone’s taste

I thought a restaurant as highly regarded as Jitlada who had the balls to charge $14 for a pad thai could make magic happen, but alas that was not the case. I mean they might as well take a cue from sushi bars and say “NO PAD THAI HERE” to emphasize their seriousness, but alas they would rather take your $14 and have the internet come to their defense.

The service for us was far worse than other Thai or SGV places, save 101 Noodle Express.

One senses that places like Pailin are truly a family operation. Front end can be short-handed but it’s understandable. Jitlada? I honestly wonder if they have any clue about service. Or is it just another “fuck you”? Not in the spirit of Thai culture at all.