Thai Nakorn - Garden Grove - A Review with Photos
I've not yet been to Thailand. But without a passport, malaria shots, or a plane ticket, I can indulge in the splendors of its cuisine by just taking a quick hop on the 22 Freeway to the city of Garden Grove.
Those in Orange County who know and appreciate good Thai food have undoubtedly taken this pilgrimage themselves. I'm talking, of course, about the venerable Thai Nakorn.
It's been called the best Thai restaurant in Orange County for a reason. The reason? IT IS THE BEST THAI RESTAURANT IN ORANGE COUNTY! Of course, I'm biased, since it has always been one of my favorite restaurants for at least a decade. But whether you believe this post or my previous two posts on it, one thing is certain; if you haven't tried it, you must.
What awaits you there? Dishes like the following:
Fried Pomfret Fish with Chili, Garlic & Sauce ($11.95) was just that -- a whole white pomfret, a salt-water fish with a milky white and delectable flesh, was gutted, scored, and fried in hot oil until blistered brown and crisp. It was served with a dark red sauce so thick it looked like congealing blood in a bowl.
Tamarind pulp gave this saucy condiment its alarming color and consistency as well as its tart and fruity base flavor. Bold and chunky, it was chock full of sliced chili pepper pods, onion, garlic, and cilantro, folded into it as if a molten lava flow rolled through a vegetable garden.
The next dish was as addictive as it was lethal. Since it was called Crispy Catfish with Mango Salad ($7.95), when we saw the mound of shredded young mango, red onion, and chili, one of us remarked, "Where's the catfish?" in a comical "Where's the beef?" moment.
Indeed, nothing shaped like a fish was to be found anywhere in the dish. Not a head, a fin, or even a tail. Instead, dotting the salad were these golden brown crunchy crumbles that looked like Grape Nuts cereal.
This, it turns out, *was* the catfish. Little morsels of it, were strewn about the dish, functioning like fish flavored croutons. And boy was it good! Who needs to bother with bones when it's all right here in these little granules.
A dressing of lime juice, nuclear chili, sugar, and pungent fish sauce laced each wispy spoonful of the stuff, its flavors bright and intense.
This was a dish that was hard for me to stop eating, even as my brow became soaked with sweat and my burning lips begged for mercy. I yielded only after each and every last crumb was gone.
Pork salad anyone? That's what Nam Sod ($6.50) really is.
Ground pork meat was cooked and tossed with julienned ginger, roasted peanuts, scallions, whole dried chilis, and sauced with lime juice. Refreshing and breathtakingly simple, this salad played very well with rice. The bite of ginger cleared our nasal passages while the lime cleansed our palates for the next mouthful.
Nam Sod can also be had with Crispy Rice, house-made Rice Krispies, which added an extra dimension of texture. Snap, Crackle and Pop never had it so good.
Pad Thai ($6.50) at Thai Nakorn was a serviceable dish and tasted like it should. It's probably just as good as Pad Thai cooked anywhere else, but never is it this saucy and bold.
A spoonful of sugar and pepper flakes straddled the plate; a practice usually seen at authentic Thai joints like this one. Bulbous and sweet shrimp surfed on top of the cresting noodle wave, its tails still attached. Fresh and crunchy bean sprouts finished the dish -- the spaghetti and meat sauce of South East Asia.
Two soups we never pass up ordering are Tom Yum Kah Gai ($7.25) and the Tom Yum Kung ($8.25). Tom Yum Kah Gai was the milder of the two, but not by much. The level of heat, no matter how hot, was tempered by a good dousing of creamy coconut milk. And the spicy brew went on stealth mode because of it.
The first sip entranced our tongues with the tartness of lime, the sugar, and the distinctly herby touch of galangal and lemongrass which hid behind a silky screen of sultry coconut milk. On the second sip, the raucous heat of Thai chili began to hit. By the third, a numbing sensation crept in, letting us know that soon we'd feel the onslaught of a full-on capsaicin attack.
Protein, in the form of heady chunks of chicken, helped to sop up the chili pepper burn. The button mushrooms also made for a good meaty chew -- a cooling foil to the soup.
Tom Yum Kung, on the other hand, was in our faces from the very start. Not being held back by coconut milk made the broth uncensored, naked, and naughty. Diced Thai chilis floated along the top of the red soup; raw and looking for trouble.
It was a foolhardy thing we did to not specify "mild" when we ordered. Now we were going to pay the price.
Sure enough, the first spoonful sent us wincing in pain. "Oh my freakin' gawd," one of us yelped, vainly fanning his tongue with two hands. This was not a soup for wussies -- and I was a wuss.
Defeated by the mighty soup, I meekly took the shrimp and button mushrooms out of my soup and ate them with some rice. Those with lead-lined stomachs can probably stand this liquid litmus test for chili-heads. Everyone else should probably remember to ask for leniency when ordering.
To quell the fire burning in our throats we ordered Coconut Ice Cream, which did the job, though not before inducing a stifling brain freeze on our first taste. Made from coconut cream, this was one of Thai Nakorn's house creations -- a welcome respite from the dishes that came before -- both rich and icy, topped with crunchy roasted peanuts and slippery lobes of white jelly.
With our palates exhausted from the workout and our bellies full of food, we bid farewell to Thai Nakorn. I would return less than two weeks later.
Thai Nakorn Restaurant
12532 Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92843
I finally had a chance to visit Thai Nakorn this week for dinner. Showed up on a Tuesday night and it was completely packed, possibly due to the closure/remodeling at Renu Nakorn.
I'm not a Thai food expert, and neither was any other members of my family, so we kind of chose items to try to get a nice variety.
We got the fried stuffed chicken wings, which were really good and I think everyone's favorite dish of the night. Really excellent, and freaking huge.
We also got the chicken satay, which were like chicken ka-bobs. Really good, too, probably the 2nd favorite item at the table.
Then we got the Thai beef BBQ. The beef was a bit overcooked, and there was a fair amount of fat on some of the meat slices. Not bad, as the dipping sauce has a bit of spicy kick to it. I think I liked it more than everyone else did.
There was a shrimp dish, with babycorns and mushrooms. Average dish, very similar to what I've ordered at Chinese restaurants in the past. Just OK, nobody was excited about this dish.
Final dish was pad thai noodles. We were mostly stuffed with the other 4 dishes, so when this dish arrived last, nobody was really hungry for it. I tried a couple of bites, and it was pretty good.
Overall, it was a nice meal, but the service was a bit spotty as it was very crowded.
I'll definitely go back again, just to explore some of the other items on the menu, like the crab egg rolls, which I was tempted to order if we hadn't already ordered 2 appetizer dishes.
re: Das Ubergeek
I meant texturally not literally really
We have had the papaya salad which I love but I am not a fan of the sweetness of mango, but I guess if it is green mango it is not as sweet & aromatic?
I like TN version of this best, some places the dried shrimp are left whole and are... um.... too chewy & weird.
Oh, elmomonster, you must be psychic -- I was going to post my Thai Nakorn experience (though no pictures)!
My wife and I usually dine solo, and we don't tend to order a lot, but on this occasion we did, because she didn't believe me that Thai Nakorn is leagues better than even the restaurants in "Sherman Way of the Chile" in North Hollywood.
Tom yum kha gai -- as elmomonster said, it's pretty fiery. One nice thing about this place -- they don't assume that because you're not Thai that you want it wimpy and bland. It had slices -- not chunks, but slices -- of chicken in it, which had obviously been put in raw just before service and were perfectly cooked by the time we ladled it out.
Som tum -- papaya salad with blue crab (you can get it with shrimp if the crab weirds you out). My gold standard is the som tum from the booths at the Wat Thai in North Hollywood and this is just as good. It is REALLY spicy, though, so make sure to eat the cabbage that comes with it.
Wild boar in spicy sauce -- this was the first thing on the specials menu and my God, was it good. Very tender, both the meat and the fat, and bathed in a dark, smoky, spicy sauce with a lot more basil than I expected. Eat it with rice, because the sauce has some oil in it and the spice can ruin your tongue for the rest of the meal if you don't cut it a bit!
Stir-fried morning glory -- this is a very Thai thing and at Thai Nakorn it was the perfect foil for the boar, a little peppery and vinegary with just a hint of sweetness.
For dessert we had durian and sticky rice (special that day, they happened to get in some durians), with the fruit served chilled and with a splash of lime juice to cut the odour, which worked a lot better than I had expected.
The best part? The meal cost us about $40 and we had plenty of leftovers to take home.
I love it... and I can't wait to move down there so I can eat it more often!
You don't know me from Adam so you can disregard this if you want but...
I've been to both Renu Nakorn and Thai Nakorn and there is no comparison. Thai Nakorn wins, hands down.
I'd go so far as to say it competes with Lotus of Siam. The only complaint I have is it always seems to have an overwhelming PineSol smell when you walk in the front door which doesn't help your appetite much.
Admittedly, I've never been to Renu Nakorn, came close once...but not yet. However, I'm a devotee of the Chutimas' new digs at Lotus of Siam in Vegas, and if I had to choose between Thai Nakorn and LoS...I...I...would have to shoot myself because I can't think of a world without either one.