Pattaya, the modest new Thai restaurant in a mini-mall on Vermont Avenue just north of Hollywood Boulevard, has a number of things going for it. First of all, it has a parking lot, a true boon in this ever-hippifying neighborhood where spaces are at a premium. Secondly, it opens daily at 11 a.m. for lunch, and stays open nightly until 4 a.m., which means that you can get a good curative hot pot of chicken soup before you call it quits on a long evening out. Finally, it has a kitchen full of good Thai cooks, so that whenever you come, you have a very good chance of getting something delicious to eat. In fact, Pattaya is already a reliable canteen to a number of neighborhood regulars.
Pattaya is named after the first big resort area in Thailand, a bayside town only eight miles or so from Bangkok. The restaurant, however, is nothing luxurious, just a large room with Formica tables and cast-iron chairs, several shrines and assorted indoor plants. A small aquarium holds a single brown, pan-size fish. A small stage reveals evidence of live music (late at night, I’d guess). The floor is concrete painted gray and patterned with daubs of pink, yellow and green. Attractive, cheerful Thai waitresses take our orders. The menu is fairly large — 65 items, 60 of which are between $4.95 and $6.95, with only a handful of seafood dishes priced higher.
In these wintry weeks, it‘s hard to pass up the soup here. The spicy chicken soup tom yum kai does taste as if it could vanquish all colds: Served bubbling hot, spicy with red chile, sour with lemongrass, full of tender chicken and mushrooms, it’s like penicillin in its tastiest Thai form. A richer, thicker soup is the tom kha kai, with coconut milk, chicken, mushrooms, lemongrass, chile, kafir lime leaf and galangal root. I like to eat it with spoonfuls of sticky rice, which can transform it from an appetizer into a full meal. The tom kha kung, the shrimp version of the coconut soup, is also good, but I haven‘t been sufficiently impressed by the quality of shrimp at Pattaya to prefer it to the chicken version.
Except for the larb, ground pork dressed in a spicy fish sauce, which is quite salty, all the salads I’ve tried at Pattaya have been delicious. The green-papaya salad is a spicy, juicy slaw with peanuts and chewy dried shrimp. Barbecue beef salad is meaty and refreshing, with cilantro, red onions, chile, fish sauce, cucumbers and tomatoes. Then there‘s yum woonsen, glass noodles with ground pork in a spicy lime-juice dressing, a salad big on flavor and low on calories. The noodles are made of mung bean; a friend who lived in Thailand informs me that yum woonsen is how the young Thai girls keep their figures — they eat it for lunch every day. Happily, I’d say, if Pattaya‘s versionis typical.
The good pad Thai has an alluring sour tang of tamarind; it’s not too sweet, but could use a bit more vegetal crunch — bean sprouts andor green onion. Some of the broad rice noodles are bland (the lard na and pad see eiw), but the pad kee mao, pan-fried flat noodles with chile, fried basil leaves and, in our case, chicken, was alarmingly delicious. There go the calories saved with glass noodles!
Deep-fried catfish in chile sauce is a big hit with catfish lovers (I am not one). I prefer the curries. The green curry, with its thick coconut-milk sauce, well-balanced heat, tender chicken (or beef) and slippery, plump chunks of eggplant, is one of the more sensuous, haunting dishes I‘ve had in months. The yellow chicken curry, also rich, is a more straightforward stew, with potatoes and carrots. Pad prik king, your choice of meat sauteed with chile paste and green beans, is also recommended.
One day at lunch, we spotted a dish sailing past that we couldn’t find on the menu — deep-fried mussels tossed with green onion and bean sprouts. The waitress happily brought us an order: Served with a sweet, mild red chile sauce, the battered mussels and fresh bean sprouts were a study in various forms of crispness. Occasionally, a dish disappoints. A stir fry of bean sprouts and tofu is atypically bland; a spicy Thai noodle isn‘t spicy. The satay is okay, but why order it when so much else on the menu is more vibrant and alive with flavor?
Every meal ends nicely with the house-made coconut ice cream sprinkled with roasted peanuts. The waitresses expertly package your leftovers — a good thing, since in a few hours you’ll be hungry again for another bite of noodle, curry or hot spicy soup.
1727 N. Vermont Ave.; (323) 666-0880. Open daily for lunch and dinner. Parking in lot. MC and V accepted with a $10 minimum purchase.