At a certain point, if you want to earn your stripes in the food world, you can’t act squeamish or repulsed at the prospect of eating a bowl of pig organs floating in a broth thickened with pig blood. Truthfully, I’m at a point now where such thoughts don’t repulse me; in fact, I think I have a mature attitude about such things. For example, I once attended a dinner cooked by Chris Cosentino of Incanto and the first course was a raw venison liver served on a spoon. I ate it. It popped in my mouth and did I cry? Did I enter psychoanalysis afterwards? Well, yes, but still. I got over it. And so it was that after interviewing Zach Brooks last week, I joined him for lunch at Pa-Ord, a deeply authentic hole-in-the-wall in Thai Town.
Walking in, we noticed food left out on the sidewalk. Is this a Thai ritual? An offering to the gods? We weren’t sure.
Here’s a taste of the interior:
The place was bustling with Thai customers; in fact, our waiter had a really hard time understanding our order in English (as Zach mentioned in the interview, Thai restaurants in L.A. mostly cook for a Thai audience which is why the food is so good).
I let Zach do the ordering and the first thing that he ordered, of course, were the boat noodles he’d been telling me about since I moved here.
That’s what you see in the lead picture and it’s essentially a bowl of wildly potent broth–it tastes like pho if you dropped a plugged-in hairdryer into a big bowl of it–insanely spicy, intensely rich (that’s the pork blood, which acts as a thickener, not really a flavorer). At the bottom are noodles which you slurp up cautiously, scared of the searing heat that’s about to confront your throat. Also floating in there are bits of meat (in this case, we ordered beef, but pork is also an option) and organs (there’s a heart at 2 o’clock). All-in-all, it’s a dish that makes complete sense–the way that matzoh ball soup also makes complete sense–and, sensationalism aside (pork blood! floating heart!) it’s a dish worth eating just because it’s good.
(Note: when the waiter asks how spicy, you do not want it very spicy because that’s very spicy in Thai terms which means your face will melt into a puddle and you’ll have to siphon yourself home. Say, “medium spicy.”)
The other food that we ate was so good too, I was quick to declare the meal that we ate at Pa Ord the best Thai meal I’d ever had. Check out the papaya salad:
That tangle of julienned green papaya and carrots mixed with tomatoes, green beans, peanuts, chiles and a tangy dressing infused with lime was pretty much authoritative.
And the Pad Thai, while the most conventional of the dishes that we ordered, was well-made and a nice sweet foil for all the heat from the noodles and the salad:
But the dish that I’ll be dreaming about again and again, the one that’d have the zombie version of me clawing my way back to Thai Town during the Zombie apocalypse, is this one:
That’s crispy pork with Chinese broccoli. HOLY CRAP. It’s basically deep fried pork, but the fatty parts of pork so you get this crunchy, rich, decadent bite ensconced in a flavorful brown sauce that also spills over the just-cooked-enough Chinese broccoli. I loved this dish and if you go to Pa Ord, you’ll be a criminal in my book if you don’t order it. It’s life-changing.
But so, in their way, were the boat noodles. Where the crispy pork was a dish that I knew I’d love (who wouldn’t?), the boat noodles were more challenging. In accepting the challenge, it was like a portal into another world, another culture.