Pad Thai Krua Thai
I chose Krua Thai because it's one of Jonathan Gold's 99 Essential LA Restaurants, and because I'm trying to expand my foodie universe beyond the Westside orbit.
The restaurant's name means Thai Kitchen, which, though not very inventive, is a fitting name given that the dishes here are more authentic than they are at the plethora of Thai restaurants I am accustomed to eating at on the Westside.
The restaurant is known for its noodles, and in fact the front cover of the menu quotes Jonathan Gold as proclaiming that Krua Thai serves the best pad Thai in Los Angeles.
Finally, an excuse to order my favorite dish without being mocked for being unoriginal.
The menu offers both pad Thai and pad Thai Krua Thai, so I chose the latter, what with it being a signature dish and all. The difference between the two is that the pad Thai Krua Thai is spicy. I always thought pad Thai was supposed to be spicy, though I'm not sure what I based that assumption on, given that I'd never been served spicy pad Thai before.
Much to my relief, the restaurant was happy to accomodate my request to leave out the dried shrimp, and the dish already comes with tofu. You can add chicken, beef, or pork for no extra charge, or regular shrimp for another $1.50. The chicken was ground, so I assume the other meat would be, too. Since it's hard to impart chicken strips with the flavor of pad Thai, I think grinding the meat was a good choice.
Krua Thai's recipe is the (perhaps) more authentic version that uses tamarind paste, not ketchup, as a base for the sauce. Sadly, I've actually gotten really used to the bright reddish orange version of the dish (I like to think that it's not made with ketchup though, especially since I don't even like ketchup) and now I actually prefer this version. As far as authenticity goes, from what I understand, there is no one right way to make pad Thai, and what with globalization, for all I know there are street vendors making pad Thai with kethcup over in Thailand. Also, I think it's better without the heat. Although there's generally nothing wrong with mixing sweet and spicy, something about the sweetness of this sauce doesn't mix with chilies, according to my taste buds. I still prefer the pad Thai at Cholada Beach Thai.
The noodles were indeed nice and chewy, though I don't see how that sets Krua Thai apart from any other place that knows how to cook noodles. Rice noodles are easy to mess up, I can attest to that, but for a restaurant that knows it's stuff, this is a basic, basic thing that no one should get extra credit for.
The dining room was decked out with Christmas lights and tinsel, and neon lights and brightly colored walls mean that it must look festive year-round. In spite of the decor, the place doesn't exactly have atmosphere--it isn't a place I wanted to linger after my meal was done, or a place I would take a date. A lot of the tables are very large, which leaves me wondering if, at busier times, you end up sharing these large tables with strangers, a la Palms Restaurant. Fortunately, at lunch time, we secured our own table. It was kind of greasy and didn't look like it had been wiped down very well, but alas, I suppose that is part of the authentic ethnic experience. Actually, no, I don't think "dirty table" is anywhere in the definition of "ethnic."
Our server was friendly and took our order promptly, though she disappeared for a while near the end when we were ready to pay and get our leftovers boxed up. Krua Thai gets points for being environmentally friendly because they use Chinese-style paperboard takeout containers. Why must so many restaurants use styrofoam?
To drink, we ordered palm juice, which came in a bottle accompanied by a large cup brimming with crushed ice. We also blindly ordered a whole young coconut (pictured above). The palm juice wasn't that exciting, which was disappointing because drinking whatever brand they serve at Palms Restaurant is simply a heavenly experience reminiscent of liquid sugar cookies, if such a thing existed.
The whole young coconut was, in fact, a whole young coconut, with a little door cut into the top so I could poke my straw in and suck out the clear, sweet liquid whose consistency was much like water. It also came with a spoon, which I assumed was for scraping bits of coconut from the insides.
I would recommend getting a sweet drink to go with your meal. As I sit here eating my leftovers accompanied by only a glass of water, I'm finding myself really craving something sweet. Yes, Thai food is sweet, but the flavor it leaves behind in your mouth is salty and spicy.
Pad Kee Mao
The other dish we ordered was also a noodle dish called pad kee mao which I have never tried before. The dish consisted of wide, flat noodles, ground beef, tomatoes, onions, and mint leaves. This dish was just okay. It's main selling point for me was the noodles, but the overall flavor was a bit lackluster, and the noodles were very greasy. Also, I really have no desire to eat entire strips of onion, large chunks of cooked tomato with the skin on, or mint leaves, so I had to pick around those things to get to the noodles and beef. Finally, while this was listed under noodle dishes, the noodle to meat ratio didn't seem right--there was much more meat than there were noodles.
As usual, I couldn't resist ordering an appetizer of fish cakes. These were chock-full of tiny, fresh, sliced green chilies, but that didn't mean they were too spicy. The real heat was in the dipping sauce, though if you don't eat a bunch of sauce straight out of the spoon like I did, you shouldn't find your throat catching on fire. It isn't really a spicy sauce, more of a sweet sauce, it just happens to have a a few pepper bits in it. It's that red sauce with cucumbers and crushed peanuts that fish cakes always come with.
Here's something useful I figured out when I was getting my leftovers packaged up. You know how they never package the sauce in with your leftovers? Well, if you dump the remaining sauce all over your food while it's still on the plate, they have to package your sauce. This only works with foods that won't become soggy, of course, but I've eaten the leftover fish cakes and the sauce dumping trick worked nicely.
By the way, we had plenty of leftovers even though we came in famished. I'm also starting to think that Jonathan and I don't have similar tastes, and that his reviews really don't tell me everything I need to know about a restaurant.
In addition to noodles, Krua Thai serves 21 appetizers (fried tofu, fried taro, nam-thai sour sausage); 10 soups (wonton soup, tom yum koong, spicy beef tripe soup); 19 salads (papaya salad, larb, salted blue crab salad); 21 rice dishes (roasted duck over rice, catfish with chili sauce over rice, pineapple fried rice); 37 entrees (fried salted turnip with egg, clams with chili paste in oil, tilapia with Thai herbs); and several drinks and desserts. As you can see, there is something for everyone, and enough variety to keep you interested for many, many visits. They also have a special vegetarian menu!
Total cost of this meal for two, including tax and tip: about $30
13130 Sherman Way
North Hollywood, CA
Open daily 11:30am-3:30am
Second location (not reviewed):
Hong Kong Market Plaza
935 S. Glendora Ave.