Sometimes, when it feels like the world is thwarting you, it’s really just trying to herd you in the right direction. A couple of Saturdays ago, we attempted to have lunch at Krua Siri in Hollywood. Despite the website’s insistence that the restaurant was open for lunch at 11:30, when we arrived at our intended destination, we were confronted with a gated storefront and a staff inside looking (seemingly) mockingly at us. We then moved through a couple more options, facing more closed signs until a light bulb went off in my brain – we had fully intended to visit the highly recommended Pailin Thai for some time, and now we were in the right place at the right time with increasingly growly bellies. Right place, indeed. Pailin serves up really wonderful Thai cuisine at bargain prices.
Upon first glance, there’s not really anything to distinguish Pailin from the hundreds of other Thai eateries in the neighborhood (except that it’s open when it says it will be – hey-o!). The relatively small, clean dining area was sparsely populated when we walked in, and we were immediately seated by the incredibly friendly owner.
Like I said, after wandering around trying to find an open restaurant for about half an hour, we were pretty hungry. A generous plate of tempura squid (below, $6.75) took the edge off nicely. Each little nugget was lightly battered and perfectly fried.
Also perfectly fried? Our tofu appetizer (below, $3.95). The friends accompanying us, veterans of vegetarian cuisine, opined that it was one of the better fried tofu dishes they had consumed – the exterior crisp, the interior creamy, and the plate empty before too long.
Next up, a hallmark of northeastern Thai cuisine, the nam see krong, or fried fermented/sour pork rib (below, $7.25). Yeah, you read that correctly. This is a dish of fermented pork, which sounds really scary. And the ribs, with their softly sour flavor, chewy texture and bits of cartilage didn’t land with everyone at the table. But I really enjoyed the unique delicacy (though it is NOT something I will ever try to recreate at home).
While the ribs may have been divisive, the next round of food won everyone over handily. The roasted duck curry (below, $7.25), with its gorgeous colors, was a showstopper of a dish. Succulent strips of duck swam beside chunks of mellow sweet pineapple, bits of tomato and leaves of basil in a luxuriously rich orange curry.
Because of its off-putting pinkish hue (derived from red bean paste), I was able to slurp a bowl of the sour yen ta fo (below, $5.75) all by myself. The aromatic soup was a circus of flavors and textures, combining wide rice noodles with spinach, fish cake, fungus, and cubes of pig blood. I have to admit, the pig blood was a little intense for my liking, but I still mightily enjoyed the dish overall.
Mark went with a tried and true favorite, Chinese broccoli with crispy pork. While neighboring newcomer Crispy Pork Gang remains the champion in terms of its crispy pork offerings, Pailin’s version is still very good.
The last dish to arrive was the beautifully plated sweet and sour fish (below, $11.50). The fish, kept whole and deep fried, hid flaky, flavorful white flesh under a crunchy exterior and a mound of sauce-laden vegetables.
Pailin may have not been our first choice that Saturday. Or our second. Or our third. But it should have been, and next time we go, it’ll be on purpose.