I like Thai food as much as the next person, and much like the next person, I generally get mine take-out. Because although we all enjoy the sweet, spicy, pleasure of a good Pad Thai noodle, the restaurants are too often a hodgepodge of tired decor, bad lighting and that endless, plastic menu.
Not so Jetta Thai, which opened a few months ago in El Segundo, right next to pasta hotspot Jame Enoteca; it's as fresh and modern as the sisters who created it, with a youthful energy and charm.
Owner and operator Gift Jettaporn moved to LA from Bangkok about eight years ago for school, but found herself missing her mom's home cooking.
Unable to find the precise flavors she'd grown up with, she called her mom in Thailand—asking for recipes.
It turned out she had a knack for cooking and was soon working kitchen jobs in Thai restaurants around the Westside, perfecting her skills while learning more about the industry.
Jetta Thai is her third restaurant, and a family operation.
Gift is in charge of the kitchen while her sister Gade, designed the interior.
It was Gade who suggested the El Segundo location. She and her husband had fallen for its small-town vibe while house hunting. Together the sisters created a menu with a clean layout, simple descriptions and some Instagram-style photos.
For a recent lunch Gift steered me toward a dish they call Grandma's cabbage, a Jetta specialty. A wedge of cabbage cooked long and slow in a broth of shiitake mushroom, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil before getting a quick char on the grill. The flavor is delicate and smoky, rich with mushroom umami, the texture velvety.
Chicken satay might be the most popular Thai dish, and Jetta's version is quite good.
Chef Gift's technique of cubing the cumin and turmeric scented chicken insures a satay that cooks quickly enough to remain moist, and the puddle of peanut sauce beneath it is irresistible.
I had a Thai ice tea to accompany. It was, as all Thai ice tea, quite sweet, but complements the flavors of this cuisine. My friend ordered the coconut water that arrived still inside the freshly opened fruit, with a (paper) straw.
Gift warned me that the heat level at Jetta is higher than most Thai places, but I found it quite moderate. They roast and grind their own Thai chili powder, offered in a shaker on each table beside the salt and pepper if you want to amp it up.
Their yellow curry is a rich stew of chili paste, cumin and turmeric, with a hint of bay and sweetness from coconut milk and onion, containing hunks of carrots, potato and tender chicken, with a crunchy sprinkle of peanut on top. The flavor is bright and complex, and I found myself spooning a smidge more over rice for one more bite.
But no matter how cute the room, the ultimate test of Thai is the take-out.
Jetta partners with four delivery services, so once I returned home I Doordashed an order of Pad Thai noodles and a spicy beef salad. The orders arrived warm and well packaged, with a side of chili sauce to adjust the heat level.
The Pad Thai was excellent, the sweet tamarind/deep peanut/sour lime all playing well with the chewy noodles and crunchy sprouts. Jetta's version comes with shrimp, fresh tasting and perfectly cooked, and tofu. I, admittedly, am not a fan of tofu, even when it's well prepared, and in the future would ask to substitute chicken—which they will do.
The beef salad has a generous portion of sliced grilled sirloin, served warm over a bed of bite-sized chopped romaine. I'd expected something more "greens forward," as you'd get in an American version of a beef salad, but cucumber, mint and cilantro bring a freshness and the lime juice tang and fish sauce umami in the dressing were well balanced.
Jetta Thai is located at 243 Main St. in El Segundo, open weekdays from 11 a.m., weekends from 4 p.m.
Eileen Shields is a South Bay food writer: contact at email@example.com.