Unlike North Hollywood or Thai Town in L.A. proper, we in O.C. have to hunt for our Thai food. Thai restaurants are scattered around our fair county like Easter eggs in a spring garden.
Finding out where the good ones are requires that you know the right people who know of the right places. Thankfully, all the right people, like Mealcentric, Diamond Dog, and Curt of Chowhound, have shown me where to look.
Not too long ago, Curt introduced me to Zesty Thai at a food court nestled in an office park in Irvine. I am now addicted to their Pad See Ew, which I think is better than those I've had at Krua Thai, Thai Nakorn, and Lotus of Siam.
Yes, their Pad See Ew is that good.
Find it funny that I found it at a food court? Well, that's the thing about Thai food in Orange County -- it's all about knowing where to look, no matter how unlikely the location might sound.
So it came as no surprise when Mealcentric and Diamond Dog clued me into Bangkok Taste, a proverbial hole-in-the-wall inexplicably located next to a Big Lots in Santa Ana, of all places. They said it was worth a try, and they were right.
The restaurant is small. It's a single room no bigger than a typical Chinese take-out joint with an order counter and a small square opening behind the register where plates of food are slid out from the kitchen. But the restaurant is well lit, bright, and inviting.
Overhead, there are mini faux crystal chandeliers which sparkle. Above, two fluorescent light panels are covered by decorated stained glass, giving the illusion of skylights. The walls, decorated with framed artwork intricately crafted of beads, are themselves made of elegant faux-stone. The owners made the best out of the space they were alotted and succeeded.
The night we dined, we were alone in the restaurant. It was the just the two of us, the server (a twenty-something Thai gentleman), and the cook (presumably, his mom). Sitting there in the empty restaurant, we heard her wok clang and our food sizzle as twangy Thai music wafted through the air.
After a while, the door jingled as a customer came in to pick up an order he phoned in. As he left, he held his parcel of food aloft and said jokingly to the Thai gentleman, "You should try this place, they're great!"
The food arrived shortly thereafter. We started with the Tom Kha Gai, chicken soup flavored with lime juice, coconut milk, galangal, bruised kaffir lime leaves, sliced lemongrass, and cilantro. Instead of straw mushrooms, which is typically used in this dish, it was criminis. Although not as meaty or sultry as the straw, the criminis were cooked well so it worked.
The morsels of dark meat chicken were plentiful and had a pleasant and tender chew. The one thing I noticed was lacking was the heat of chili, which wasn't a problem to me. But the dominant flavor of the soup; lime juice, could have been tempered with a little bit of sugar or perhaps more coconut milk. Nonetheless, it was a refreshing start. The tartness of the soup primed my palate for the meal to come.
The Mussel Omelette came next. It was wide and circular; a disk the size of a small pizza. Beaten egg and glutinous rice flour envelop chunks of briny mussel meat in this crispy, eggy, and chewy creation. The bed of bean sprouts added some freshness and a cooling touch to the dish, while a sweet and sour chili sauce tied it all together. This was almost as perfect as Lotus of Siam's version, but not as crispy. But I loved this dish, and I'm positive I'll order it again on my next visit.
The Pad See Ew was a dish of flat rice noodle stir fried with beef and Chinese broccoli. Bangkok Taste's version is a lot wetter than others I've tried but still well-flavored. My one and only gripe, was that the broccoli was undercooked. It tasted a little on the raw side actually, which meant that it didn't work in unison with the other ingredients as much as I would have liked.
The perfect Pad See Ew, I think, occurs when all the components; starch, protein, and vegetable, dance in lockstep in a perfectly choreographed balance of tastes and textures. An undercooked piece of broccoli can easily shatter this harmony. That isn't to say that this wasn't a good plate of Pad See Ew, just not as great as my new benchmark for this dish; Zesty Thai's.
So now I've got another Thai restaurant to put in my rotation. Over time, in more visits, I hope to discover more of Bangkok Taste's Easter Eggs in its own menu.
2737 N Grand Ave
Santa Ana, CA 92705