In an L-shaped strip mall on the part of Sunset Boulevard that runs through Thai Town in East Hollywood is a restaurant called Jitlada: the Original Southern Thai Cuisine. On any given night, the wait list, on a clipboard that hangs next to the entrance, is usually long and might include Ryan Gosling, Drew Barrymore, or Matt Groening, who has drawn so many illustrations for Jitlada that an entire wall in the restaurant is dedicated to them. While you wait for your name to be called, you can visit the other shops in the mall: the marijuana dispensary, the Thai convenience store, the florist, the barbershop, the day spa.
When it is your turn, Sarintip “Jazz” Singsanong will take you inside and take care of you. Jazz owns the restaurant with her brother Suthiporn “Tui” Sungkamee, who is the chef. Once seated, you’ll likely be overwhelmed by the hundreds of dishes improbably crammed onto the few pages of the menu, at which point you’ll do well to turn to Jazz for help. She will recommend the delicately fried morning glory, one of Tui’s curries, and maybe one or two more of his southern Thai specialties, like deep-fried fish rubbed with fresh turmeric, the khao yam rice salad, the raw blue-crab salad mixed with papaya, or the soft-shell crab, fried and tossed with pungent sator beans. If she has the time and the ingredients, she might offer to make you her Jazz burger, a patty laced with garlic, palm sugar, and spices, presented on a giant lettuce leaf and topped with red chilies, special sauces, tomatoes, red onions, and Thai basil. The proper thing to do here is to listen to Jazz, to follow her lead.
If Tui’s cooking catapulted Jitlada onto the national food scene, Jazz has solidified it as an institution. “The customers, they are my family,” she says. And you don’t doubt for a second that she means it: she imbues the space with a charismatic, kinetic energy and takes care of you so well that it’s almost impossible to eat here without feeling like you’ve made a new friend. And like a good friend, she’ll have ice, cucumbers, and tomatoes at the ready to extinguish flames. She’ll remember she hasn’t seen you since you had your kid. She’ll insist you follow her outside to take a selfie.
And before you leave, she might slip you a container of a special sauce she just made. “For breakfast tomorrow,” she’ll say, before rushing back inside and leaving you to cradle your souvenir back to your car. You’ll peel out of the parking lot and head home, knowing that breakfast tomorrow is going to be great. —Tien Nguyen