Two in Thai Town: Pailin Thai and Red Corner Asia (Los Angeles, Summer 2013)

sausagesIn July we ate at our (and everyone else’s) favourite bastion of southern Thai cooking in the US, Jitlada, and also at the less ambitious (and expensive) Yai. This time around we decided to eat at a couple of places in Thai Town we hadn’t been to before and settled on Red Corner Asia and Pailin Thai. Red Corner Asia is officially within Thai Town (whose western boundary is Western Ave.) and Pailin Thai is a few blocks further west but I think we can all agree that it can only be a good thing if Thai Town grows and colonizes more of Hollywood. Let’s take the meals in chronological order:

Red Corner Asia has the prime location in a small strip mall dominated by restaurants (there are four other Thai restaurants there, three of which are the well-regarded Ruen Pair, Ganda and Crispy Pork Gang & Grill). Despite its name, which might lead you to expect a pan-Asian menu, it’s very much a Thai restaurant. It has a glitzier interior than most Thai Town places and the menu too is shinier and seems to feature, alongside traditional dishes, more contemporary preparations than you’d see at most places. We were eating early but there were more people there than the photograph I took suggests–our end of the restaurant was pretty much full.

What we ate:

All of this came to $60 with tax and tip.

A different soup might have done wonders, who knows, but while the meal was quite good, on the whole, it was nothing special. I want to stress that this estimation is not on account of its glitzier presentation or the more nouveau aspects of some of the menu: my favourite thing at the meal was probably the least traditional thing we ate. It’s just that while everything was good, everything was quite familiar. Still, if this were in the Twin Cities it would be the best Thai restaurant in town. But there are better, less heralded options in Thai Town. Such as, for example, the restaurant we ate at yesterday: Pailin Thai.

Pailin Thai is an unassuming and small space, but a pleasant one (none of the lunch counter at a factory feel of Yai). Their reputation is based on their repertoire of dishes from northern Thailand, near the border with Myanmar and so we decided to focus on a smaller part of the menu that lists some of their special dishes from the region. The owner (at least I assume he is the owner) is a very warm and engaging man and very glad to help explain dishes and steer you away from unbalanced orders, as he did for us.

All of this came to $48 with a generous tip, and we brought leftovers home for another meal. An incredibly good deal for excellent food. I think Pailin Thai beats Yai to second place in our estimations behind Jitlada (who are now far more expensive as I noted in my review last month). We look forward to coming back a couple more times when we’re in L.A next and exploring more of their specials and their regular menu.

A postscript: I got to Pailin Thai–which does not have the buzz of most Thai Town favourites–via SinoSoul, the blog of the combative Tony Chen, a prominent and prickly fixture on the L.A foodie scene. Chen’s style is gonzo–his blog is bigger on attitude than editing–and I think he’d be the first to acknowledge that he’s a bit of a dick. Of course, I am more than a bit of a dick too, but I find some aspects of his presentation a little hard to take. However, I think his attitude is conditioned by the fact that he sets himself up as an alternative to a far, far more influential and revered local luminary, Jonathan Gold (the Pulitzer winning food writer who became famous at the LA Weekly and moved more recently to the LA Times). Gold’s reputation rests on his championing of “ethnic” food in L.A at a time when there was no other mainstream reporting of it, and I think there’s an interesting tension now between him and some of the Asian/American bloggers who’ve emerged in the last few years and who cover much of his old beat. I myself have many issues with Gold and have had them for a very long time. I think I might revisit some of that stuff sometime soon on this blog.

5 thoughts on “Two in Thai Town: Pailin Thai and Red Corner Asia (Los Angeles, Summer 2013)

  1. Say what you will about Tony C., and there’s a lot to say, much of it valid, but he does have a Gold-ian knack for finding new, exciting places. In an LA internet foodie echo-chamber where 98% of content is rehash, Tony is one of the few guys regularly offering great places I’ve never heard of or seen on any blog. In fact, he does it much moreso than Gold these days with his new role as high-falutin’ mainstream critic.

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  2. Yeah, I think Gold is largely obsolescent now from the point of view of presenting “new” places. With his SGV coverage, in particular, he seems to be quite clearly picking up on tips from the new(er) bloggers who know the area far more intimately and mostly just giving his endorsement to restaurants others have already written about; contrast this with the ’90s and early ’00s when he was pretty much the only show in town. He’s still a better writer, of course, than most food critics.

    What I was trying to say about Tony C. is that he would almost need to be a dick even if he wasn’t one really because the Gold-worship in this town is so out of control and it leaves very little room for other voices (especially ones that might have issues with Gold).

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  3. As I read this while chomping on some (not very good) mariscos al estilo Nayarit in a dingy part of the LA suburbs, only one thought came to my mind: dicks don’t let dicks eat at Red Corner Asia.

    Next time, if the other part of “we” doesn’t mind scantily dressed servers, swing by Darabar down the street from Pailin. The menu is small, but there are gems, and the late-night lounge acts are surprisingly decent.

    Of note: Neal Fraser apparently really likes Yai Thai: http://la.eater.com/archives/2013/08/14/chef_neal_fraser_favors_yai_thai_in_hollywood.php It’s a solid place, but if you’ve been exposed to the more complex Issan dishes at Pailin and/or Cancoon, Yai seems just a tad step below…

    Also, to anyone who’s reading in Minnesota, there’s this CRAZY Korita-style mariscos shack in what seems to be a converted truck wash in South Los Angeles. Visiting that place gave me heart palpitations, like I imagine how a Scotch buyer would feel when stepping into a random barn piled high with filled bourbon barrels…

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  4. Tony C is obnoxious, lacks a discriminating palate/writing skills/photography skills, and is a whore to all things media, but perhaps the flip side to his lack of social graces is that he has all this free time to go to all these restaurants and report back. He clearly does seem to speed over to all the latest Chinese restaurant openings with unseemly haste and report back quicker than anyone else.

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