Food & Drinks

The Tiny Thai Restaurant That Feels Like a Secret Hideaway From LA

Sometimes a particular hour and place overlap in a way that feels as if you’ve entered a portal from ordinary life into something more capable of magic. Maybe you’ve encountered it in an empty school after hours or a lamp-lit street devoid of all traffic, on playgrounds or the beach at midnight or the hallways of a Cineplex during screenings. When emptied of people, places that typically hold crowds feel as conjured as the worlds your mind moves through while reading a work of fiction — and just as yours to explore. It’s rare to find a place that doesn’t require trespassing to replicate that feeling. Yet Pailin Thai Cuisine in Los Angeles is such a place. 

Pailin holds the romance of somewhere secret or abandoned, but it holds it during regular operating hours. 

In the modest rectangle that is Pailin, all of the half dozen or so tables are pushed against the walls. A mirror runs along the right wall, and a dazzling collection of bright trinkets are pinned to the left. There are classical paintings of decorated generals. And there are bright metal fish and birds that bloom silver between intricate gold altars on red and cream walls. All together, the tiny interior with its maximalist Old World decor appeals to the part of me that wishes I could spend my life inside a jeweled egg. 

You can slide deep into the blue vinyl booths until you’re tucked against one of the spangled walls. Down the empty aisle in the middle of the restaurant, waiters will bring you steaming bowls of khao soi or plates of glistening fried rice. Seated anywhere, you have a view of the entire place, right down to the kitchen doors at the back from which your order will emerge. The footfall of the staff, the hiss of hot dishes, and the clinking of silverware are all muffled by dark navy patterned carpeting. It’s the kind found in movie theater lobbies, and here, too, it evokes a sense of casual time travel by being a setting far removed from everything outside it.

Pailin is the only place I’ve ever sat comfortably with my back to a door. The loud colors and even louder music at the more popular Night + Market Song make that restaurant a punishing experience despite the tastiness of the food. The long wait times and chaotic seating at the wonderful Jitlada make it best for to-go orders. But Pailin is always perfect. 

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