Eat at enough Thai food restaurants — and goodness knows we should, for this is one of the most soul-satisfying cuisines on Earth — and you come to expect a certain pattern. Not just the menu of satay, mee krob and remarkably tender spicy chicken. But also the modest, understated, often storefront settings. Eateries that spend more time perfecting what’s on the plate, and worrying less about the décor. Which is what makes Sirinat Thai in San Pedro such a…surprise. For even though I would not describe Sirinat as elegant — white tablecloths and all that — it certainly is more upscale than most.
Just consider the menu, which isn’t so much a list of dishes, as it is a work of menu art. It’s substantial — thick and heavy enough that you’d probably hurt yourself if you dropped it on your foot. It’s faux leather, with a faux woven fabric cover with elephants marching across horizontal bands, and a metal-like parade elephant as a center point, under the metal-like word, “Menu.” The pages inside — 10 in all — are plastic-covered and well-illustrated with color photos of the dishes.
The restaurant shares its name with one of Thailand’s most beautiful national parks, famed for its vast bird population. And like a few Thai destinations around town, nearly half the menu features sushi, sashimi and a handful of Japanese seafood dishes. The cuisines don’t overlap — the first six pages are Thai, the last four are sushi. But overlapping them on your table is easy — and a lot of fun. Two of my favorite foods, all at one time. Nice!
Sirinat sits in a mini-mall at the cusp of San Pedro and Palos Verdes. It has a sizable outdoor dining option that takes up a fair amount of mini-mall space — a fine place to eat on a warm South Bay evening. And the inside is heavily wooded, with lots of art built around a golden theme — and a sushi bar where the chefs frantically crank out exotic rolls, with a big screen showing the sport of the moment over their shoulders.
The menu is familiar because Thai restaurant menus in town are always familiar — there’s the chicken and beef satay, and the crispy spring rolls…there’s the green papaya salad, and the tom yum and tom kha soups…there’s the barbecue chicken and barbecue honey ribs, and the curries in a rainbow of colors. Pad Thai sits next to chow mein…pad see ewe next to drunken noodles.
And yet there are also dishes — or at least dish names — that come as a pleasant puzzlement. How to resist the Nest of Love, which is shrimp wrapped in crispy egg noodles, served with the ubiquitous sweet and sour sauce. A dish called Exotic Spider, which turns out not to be a deep-fried arachnid, but rather a crunchy softshell crab in a peanut and chili-lime sauce, that I wish they sold by the bottleful…or perhaps the bucketful. There’s Hurricane Soup, made with a “seafood medley” — ginger, mushrooms, lime leaves, galangal (which is ginger-esque), lemongrass, chili and basil. And a stir-fry with the happy name Crazy Cashew Nut. Order it with the sautéed beef dish called Beef Lava Flow, and have fun just saying the names! (There’s also When Tigers Cry and Lovely Honey Duck.)
But of course, as ever, it’s the exotic rolls that get the best names — and the most complex assortment of ingredients. Sexy Thai Girl begins with shrimp tempura, and adds on spicy mayo, jalapeños, mango, eel sauce and more. Add on Laker Love (spicy shrimp and crab), Three Amigos (shrimp, tuna and scallops) and the very oddly named Tennessee Thaitin (red snapper tempura and seared tuna), and the ordering gets that much more wacky.
And so do the multitude of tastes, an excess of flavors guaranteed to send your taste buds into intergalactic overdrive. I’m not sure food isn’t supposed to be this much fun. But then, at Sirinat, there’s much happiness to be found. Add on the sweet sticky rice with coconut ice cream, and you may have trouble going back into the real world.
Merrill Shindler is a Los Angeles-based freelance dining critic. Email email@example.com.
This content was originally published here.