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Saladang Song (Pasadena) -- Avoid this place!

  • g

I was back in SoCal again last week and had a number of hound-worthy experiences. But before I get to the positive ones, I must write about this place because it was so outrageous. Not only did my sweetie, who lives in South Pasadena, recommend it on hearsay, but I saw it on the LATimes list of the 300 best. So much for hearsay and so much for the vaunted LAT. Wouldn't trust the Tribune here in Chicago so I don't know why I had to learn the hard way in LA. My error.

I have had bad food and I have had Thai food but the two combined in an atrocious experience on Saturday night. Saladang Dong in Pasadena is a factory, in the worst possible sense of the word (is there a positive one?) churning out food and customers at an astonishing rate. The doors to the very large room were constantly--and I mean constantly--opening and closing as new customers came in, old ones departed and the staff (waitresses and busboys) kept up a never-ending pace. Given how cold it was that night, that meant a regular (several times a minute without exaggeration) blast of cold air into the room. It's astonishing, particularly under the circumstances, that the staff couldn't have found another way in and out to the "patio," such as the walkway along the side of the restaurant. Adding to this, the room is glass walls, steel beams, and a concrete floor with a 40-foot (or more) ceiling. Nothing whatsoever to absorb or muffle sound. That means loud and this place was so loud we nearly had to shout across a two-top. Diners are shoehorned in, lots of large parties, and lots of noise. All accompanied by a large waitstaff running constantly to and fro.

Our waitress was so busy that she had to interrupt taking our order to do god-knows-what. We didn't see her again for ten minutes. When she returned, no apology, no explanation. Food was delivered quickly, as in: here it is, eat up, and get out. No one cared about anything other than getting the order placed and getting it delivered.

How was the food, you ask? Steamed dumplings were good, period. Fish cakes had nice flavor but were way too soggy from apparently being pre-made and kept until needed. We had three entrees and I will spare the details save to explain that we could have made better at home. When a half-pint of sweet black soy substitutes for a sauce, I'm not returning anytime soon.

(They also have a very odd "delivery" system. The waitress writes a large number on the paper table cover when she starts. When the food is ready, the busboys/servers wander around in the general vicinity, looking high and low for the right number. What kind of service is this?)

I should have checked the place out on chowhound but didn't. Shame on me. Having checked now, I find virtually nothing...a hint at the least. Later posts will highlight some of my better experiences, such as Tibet Nepal House (Nepal Tibet House?) and Trattoria Tre Venezie, both also in Pasadena. But for now, I cannot be clearer about this place. I'd suggest you avoid it; we will.

Gypsy Boy

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  1. "I should have checked the place out on chowhound but didn't"

    I believe I've read recommendations for it here.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Curt

      actually i think it has some of the best thai food in town. special weird, though good steamed fish cakes, great thai iced tea (properly made), superb versions of pad kee moew w/ slices of duck (rich, tasty, and absolutely delicious), and a nice atmosphere, and at least decent service. been there about three times, and all times have been at the very least, good. but have not been to its original sister restaurant, salandang, so can't vouch for that one.

    2. Never heard a negative word about Saladang Song or its sibling. Still, it is kind of funny to hear someone from Chicago complaining about the cold in Pasadena.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Briggs

        You're right. I knew that a Chicagoan complaining about temps in the 50s would garner a response.... Wouldn't have bothered me if I had dressed for the occasion. But shirtsleeves in an inside restaurant seemed to me adequate. I wouldn't eat outside in any city when the temperature was in the 50s, unless I had on a jacket at the least. My point--which I am sure you got, in any event--is that one doesn't expect that kind of atmosphere indoors, in Chicago, Pasadena, or anywhere else.

        1. re: Gypsy Boy

          The outdoor patio has several heaters - but on a really cold night, it would not be my choice for seating. The indoor is comfortable, but I can imagine a table very near the door can be in the draft.

          Pasadena has year round warm weather. It is unreasonable to expect that they design the place for chilly weather.

          It is usually crowded and noisy, but we do not go to expecting the ambience of Tre Venezie, and vice versa. The waiters are as busy as can be expected in many crowded popular establishments in LA - no more no less.

          We have always had pleasant experiences. We have taken family and friends and out of towners (Virginia) and everyone liked the place. We will continue to eat there.

          1. re: Suvro

            I do not expect them to design a place for chilly weather. I also do not expect a never-ending flow of traffic so that there is a constant stream of cold air coming into the restaurant. (And no, we weren't right next to the door--we were about four or five tables in.)

            Crowded and noisy is one thing. I don't have any notion why you conclude that I expected a Tre Venezie ambience at Saladang Song. I didn't. (Just because I enjoy different types of experiences doesn't mean I expect hushed quiet at every place I go.) I also didn't expect to shout across my table. And I didn't expect the waitress to interrupt our order and return without comment or apology ten minutes later.

            We have crowded restaurants here too. And we have poorly staffed ones as well. And I think it is always worth noting--regardless of ambience--if the staff is adequate to the demands placed upon it.

            I'm happy that you and others are so satisfied with the restaurant. I don't gainsay your experience and won't argue that our experiences differed. That doesn't make mine any less valid, though.


            1. re: Gypsy Boy

              I don't think anyone's saying that your experience is not valid - perhaps what they're reacting to is your call to action in the subject line ("avoid this place!") by providing evidence of why they don't think other hounds should do so. I lived in Thailand for a year and happen to agree that it's some of the best Thai food I've had - so while we all appreciate hearing your opinions, we'd hate to see other hounds miss out.

      2. We love Saladang! While we haven't been to her sister Saladang Song, I imagine the experiences are similar.

        It's true, Saladang and Song are not intimate, romantic, or quiet spaces. They are almost always packed and bustling, but that's what we expect and don't mind. They are both modern rooms with high ceilings and large capacities lending to the activity and hustle bustle. The service has consistently been genial and effeicient for years. We don't come here to be doted on.

        As for the food, one can argue about its authenticity. I personally am no expert and have no idea! That said, we have never been disappointed with anything we've ordered. In fact, the flavors are complex and original. Not to mention the presentation which couldn't be prettier - love those radishes carved into roses!

        I'm sorry you didn't enjoy your dinner. Maybe it was an off night. Or perhaps the exposed ceiling, modern design wasn't your cup of tea.

        Next time, Rambutan in Silver Lake may be a better option for low-lit, quieter Thai. Rambutan is a much smaller operation and while modern, with trip-hop music playing and young hip kids running the joint, retains an intimacy you may like better.

        2 Replies
        1. re: Suebee

          "Saladang and Song are not intimate, romantic, or quiet spaces."

          Actually, I think the patio at Song at night is one of the most intimate and romantic places in Southern California. The upward underwater spots in the reflecting pools making the walls shimmer around you, the palm trees rustling overhead, tables spaced far apart, and your own personal heater providing a little nest...it's wonderful; try it!

          Personally, I would never choose the big room at Song over the patio. If I were asked to eat there, I'd just walk across the parking lot to the original Saladang. I don't blame an out-of-towner for not knowing to do this, though. Also, none of this should be interpreted as saying the O.P. did not experience what he says he did; it's only based on my personal experiences of Song & Saladang.

          1. re: Jack

            I've never even thought of the patio at Song but now looking forward to it! Next balmy Socal night, we're there. Thanks for your advice.

        2. I've been to Saladang and Saladang Song dozens and dozens of times and have never had a bad experience. I've taken friends, I've taken family, I've taken out-of-towners, and everyone enjoyed the food and environment so much that they went back or plan to go back.

          At Saladang Song, I am a big fan of many of their nightly specials, that rambutan appetizer, the curries, and the E-saan Combination (barbecued chicken, sticky-rice, and green papaya salad). Next door at Saladang, the lunch special is one of my favorite lunches anywhere -- a very refreshing Saladang ice tea (different from Thai ice tea), salad with a peanut sauce you literally can't get enough of, choice of entree (I like the yellow curry with that melty-tender chicken), and a delightful sherbert for dessert.

          I've never seen Saladang Song quite as busy as you described, so to be fair, that might explain the difference in the service you received and what I'm used to. It sounds like there were an unusual number of large parties on the night you went. But I do want to mention that I've never found the service less than pleasant, and have certainly never felt "shoehorned in" or like I was in a factory. It is often bustling, sure, but I don't mind that at all and I've also had several quiet meals there, too, especially on that gorgeous patio.

          I am sorry to hear you had an unpleasant experience, but I will certainly be returning again and again.

          1. I only ate there once but dream of going back. I have a perfect hole in my Monday schedule for lunch there and only have to drive about 30 miles out of my way....I can't wait.

            Sorry your experience was bad.

            Do you have a great Thai place in Chicago to recommend? Email me or hit the Chicago board...

            1. The Grubs’ Thai restaurant of choice in Pasadena is Saladang Song. Many visits, never disappointed.

              Love the concept – a covered, yet "unfinished," venue for caringly prepared & table-served street food. Love the ambiance (altho we have not been there when it has been packed & it IS a very live room). Love the food. No fussy delicate flavors here. All dishes are robustly prepared w flavor that dazzles the palate.

              On the Grub-o-meter, Song gets an 87. On the Gypsy scale, sounds like an 8.7. This is why there are political elections, Oscars, & Chowhound.

              1. m
                Margaret Gray

                The Grays love Saladang Song and are happy to hear it will be a little bit less crowded now for us to enjoy!

                1. Wholeheartedly disagree. This is one of my favorites.

                  1. I think I'm the first one to agree with the original poster. Saladang is a big waste of money and time. Much better thai food can be found at just about any place in Thai town. I've been there twice with friends and I find the flavors uninspired and basically geared towards gringos who don't like the funkiness of Thai food.


                    4 Replies
                    1. re: TofuMaster

                      I must chime in and say my opinion is similar to yours and Gypsyboy's. We went this past summer and had dinner on the patio with another couple. Nice setting but some of the dishes were down right awful. I had read so many rave reviews from Chowhounders that I walked away very confused. It wasn't even a case of figuring we just ordered wrong and I'll give it another try. There's just no way I'd go back.

                      1. re: Mel Carr

                        I went twice for lunch three years ago or so and can't remember specifics but know I was actively unimpressed.

                      2. re: TofuMaster

                        My Thai-born friends all love this place and actually prefer it to many Thai Town places simply because they find many of those places dirty and cook with lower-quality ingredients.

                      3. Saladang Song ranks as one of my favorite restaurants. My boyfriend and I have been there for Valentine's Day and the service was great, even with the crowds. The coconut shrimp is to-die-for.

                        Sorry you were there on a bad night. You're the first person I've heard complain about the place.

                        1. Im sorry about your bad experience...this is one of my favorite places to eat in LA. The food is great and cheap, and the architecture is great. I do admit that it can get VERY loud sitting inside, but I try to sit outside whenever I can.

                          1. I'm convinced that this place remains popular because of the decor. I've always found the service spotty and the food to be mediocre at best. Everything has the same sweet taste, lacking the complexity of the Thai food one can find elsewhere for a better price.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: garvanza girl

                              I've only been to Saladang once, but I do remember the decor and the nice architecture. I actually liked it and felt that it added to the dining experience, in a good way.

                              I'm getting tired of small, cramped restaurants. Today, for example, the chair behind me was wedged up against mine at Angelique Cafe in downtown LA, and I felt very uncomfortable. Eventually, we did move to another table.

                              1. re: katkoupai

                                "churning out food and customers at an astonishing rate"
                                Yup, thats what they do and I go to both, more often Saladang over and over and over.... I (we) always go early so as not to deal with what you described but it wouldn't deter me from going.

                            2. Saladang Song is the best thai restaurant in Pasadena. I had lunch there after flying in from Bangkok and I was happy to discover a new Pasadena haunt (I live in OC). Their lunch specials are wonderful, the portions are HUGE and the service is friendly (was there on a busy saturday-lunch) The pad thai lunch special was yummy, very generous with shrimps and their spicy beef with calamari and fried rice is something I'd go back for.

                              1. Saladang SONG - AVOID THIS STUPID REVIEW!!!!

                                I had to comment on this ridiculous title. For people coming from CHICAGO... HAHA... hey the tourist place is next door...go to Saladang (The original) Normal food that won't trip you out and the service is awesome... I have never seen a restaurant so in tune with the needs of its patrons. ANY server will help you out here and stop and ask if you need anything.. I wish more restaurants were like this.

                                For us locals...especially SGV people, we all have a great selection of asian cuisine at Saladang and the specialty Saladang Song restaurant is one of the few and greatest authentic places to eat. So since we all know this ... how about keeping the tourists at PF Changs..... HAHA enjoy your AMERICANIZED COMMERCIAL asian food!

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: teamcypher

                                  Saladangs 1&2 - The PF Chang of Thai Food.

                                  1. re: teamcypher

                                    I rank Saladang as bad as PF Changs> we went once were so disappointed. Its Thai food for people to lazy to drive to Hollywood to get the real deal or for people that just dont care about getting Americanized crap. And saying that it is the greatest authentic place to eat? that is pathetic

                                  2. Count us and our various Food Posse members among those who've never had any disappointing food at SS. Those corn fritter doodads are especially agreed by all to be deeply addictive. That said, the interior can be infernally noisy on a busy night with nothing but hard surfaces everywhere echoing the clatter of tableware and everybody trying to talk over the din. And the prices are at the upper edge of our everyday comfort level...so if we just want a decent Thai meal, we go to President. But if it's a bit of an occasion, or if we just haven't been there in a while, we'll go back to Saladang Song in a heartbeat.

                                    1. In other cities I have lived in (NY, Seattle, Bay Area), you had pretty good Americanized Thai pretty much everywhere and had to work hard to find the more Thai focused spots. In LA, it seems just the opposite: incredible stuff like Jitlada, the Sherman Way gaggle, Wat Thai, all aimed at Thai residents while the Americanized stuff is usually just hideous. So Song stands out for what it is, a place to take people who really just want Pad Thai and good ingredients in a nice outdoor setting, not a culinary adventure of any sort. Like my parents. That said, the heat with which Pasadenans defend their bourgie comfort food, while just about failing to mention a single dish, is really remarkable!

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: EricW

                                        substitute "thai" for chinese in the following strip:

                                        (which can also be found online at: http://www.secretasianman.com/archive... for july 10th)

                                      2. OK, I came to this post because a couple nights ago finding ourselves in Pasadena we had to pull out our Zagat (gak), and found our way to Saladang. We just loved it. The eggplant (black bean sauce) dish I had was the best (of its sort) I've ever had (but I thought this was a Chinese dish?).

                                        So I guess this thread leaves me with several questions:

                                        1) Saladang Song is a "specialty" version of Saladang, located just across the parking lot from it? Who knew?! (Not this tourist); I'll have to go back. Recommendations please?
                                        2) Where is "Thai Town" please?

                                        FWIW, I've actually been under the impression that Chicago has some of the best Thai food I've eaten in this country. I've wondered, actually, without ever having been to Thailand, whether there might not be different cooking styles possibly linked to different indigenous peoples in Thailand that got transferred by immigrants ("discontinuously") to different US cities? Because it seems to me that Chicago-Thai food tastes quite different from NY-Thai food which is definitely different from Phila-Thai food, and in turn also different from LA-Thai food. While yet different restaurants within those cities all seem more alike to one another. I've fancied that perhaps someone well-versed with the subtleties of this cuisine might be able to distinguish different 'home" locales of these different cities' offerings. Or maybe I'm just making it up...but at the least, this might explain why what seems to be (near-) universally acclaimed as one of LA's best Thai restaurants seems nearly inedible to a Chicagoan?

                                        2 Replies
                                        1. re: aliris

                                          Hey aliris,

                                          The current Thai Town is located near the 101 Freeway and Sunset / Hollywood. I'll leave the discussion of city-specific Thai immigration to the experts.

                                          Lastly, where did you read that Saladang is the "near universally acclaimed LA's best Thai restaurant"?! Saladang is in NO way LA's best Thai restaurant.

                                          Do a search on the LA Boards for more recent postings, but you'll find some fantastic, authentic Southern Thai-focused cuisine at Jitlada, and my two favorites for some authentic cooking at Thai Nakorn and Renu Nakorn (I love most of their Northern Thai specialties as well as their more popular specialties :).

                                          5233 1/2 W Sunset Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90027

                                          Thai Nakorn
                                          11951 Beach Blvd, Stanton, CA 90680

                                          Renu Nakorn Restaurant
                                          13019 Rosecrans Ave, Norwalk, CA 90650

                                          1. re: exilekiss

                                            Thanks, exilekiss! Mwa, I should say I guess. I have indeed been doing much reading about Thai places on this board and elsewhere since writing this yesterday. What a firestorm (so to speak). Let me note, pedantically, for the record that I said "*one of* LA's best Thai...." I think that's probably still pretty much born out by my perusing of these boards. [although I guess I can agree that this would be more accurate if "popular" were substituted for "best"]. I guess there's some controversy out there as to the authenticity, ambience, etc. But there seems also to be an awful lot of commenting (i.e., there's a large "denominator"; lots of people are commenting) about the place and by and large it seems fairly positive.

                                            Which is not to diminish the astonishing achievement of Jitlada's truly universal raves. Wow. I can't wait to try it but it would be doubly difficult for a place so well-built-up to actually match such high accolades.

                                            Thanks for the information and additional recommendations. I confess to not even knowing where Stanton is.

                                            Wish I had two stomachs so I could get to all this great food out there!!