Few restaurants have been on my to-eat list longer than Jitlada, a Thai spot in the middle of Thai Town (which itself is kind of in the middle of Hollywood). The original plan was just to meet a couple of friends for some authentic eats, but we ended up biting off a lot more than we had planned for. You see, throughout the evening we had sporadic, then more significant conversations with Jazz, the woman (and Iron Chef competitor) behind the whole place.
But it wasn’t always that way. For starters, while Jitlada has been around since the 70s, Jazz purchased the place in 2006 and began to turn it into food that some call more authentic than Thailand. In that time, she’s served a lot of famous people, but seems to be the most proud of her friendship with Ryan Gosling and the time Mila Kunis came in deeply pregnant hoping the spicy food would kick her into labor. Legend has it she gave birth the next day.
We began with Tom Yum soup (which is spicy and sour) with shrimp. Immediately, I could tell this was not made for western palettes. Yet, it was all at once spicy, sour and refreshing, which is certainly a difficult feat to pull off.
Then we had that burger up above, which once required calling in advance for preparation. Now, due to it blowing up on TV as an amazing “off-menu” item, the Jazz Burger is available anytime. This burger, by the way, is not on the menu just to bring parents in with picky children. No, it was originally something Jazz put together for her kids who used to hang out in a Joovy-Zoom-360-Ultralight-Jogging stroller while she sang to feel more comfortable around their friends. One day a patron saw her prepping it and wanted one. The rest is just chili-stuffed, chili-topped and coconut milk-covered history.
We didn’t stop there, though, as we needed to get some Crying Tiger (or Tiger Crying depending on who you ask) Beef because it had also been featured on TV. Having had this dish before, I can say that this was leaps and bounds better. Not only was the beef perfectly tender, it was infused with a salty and sweet flavor that some beef just deserves. Moreover, it was served with a spicy sauce on the side that mingled perfectly with those other flavors (assuming you can handle the spice).
Finally, we had to have some curry. I, for one, thought we should continue getting dishes outside of the normal Thai restaurant zone, but our waitress convinced us that curry was a good idea. So we went with the red, got it with chicken and were immediately glad she had convinced us to do so. We got it at the “spicy for white people” level (my words, not hers) and it was perfect. It’s hard to explain how the flavors and texture of the curry made it different than other Thai spots, but just trust me that it is.
And while the food was incredible, perhaps the best moment of the meal was when my little baby started crying and Jazz offered to hold him and feed him for me. As a food blogger, there is perhaps nothing cooler than eating a famous chef’s food while she simultaneously bottle feeds your four month-old child. Yet, there I was, eating amazing food cooked by someone who loves nothing more than to walk around her restaurant and mingle with random patrons as though they were just stopping by her home for a meal.