Thai Cafe - Irvine
Thai Cafe surprised me. I did not expect to like the place. I'd been avoiding it, even though it's been open for a year. It's antecedent was, after all, Thai Kitchen, which seemed to cater to Western palates with harmless, but softball renditions and some dishes that weren't actually Thai (Mongolian Beef anyone?)
But Thai Cafe was different, more complex, more bold, more everything. If I had to find a way to explain the difference, I'd say it was the location. It took the place of El Conejo, a taqueria that was oddly out of place, surrounded by a burgeoning Asian plaza. Thai Cafe seemed to rise to the expectations that came with the area.
We ordered standard, run-of-the-mill, unchallenging dishes to be sure; but all were done very well.
The mee krob ($7.50), a crispy nest of fried rice noodles, towered in a sky high mound, topped with a crowning tuft of cilantro and flanked by fresh bean sprouts and carrots. In the noodle tangle, shrimp, chicken, fried onions, and scallions were suspended inside the matrix with a sticky, sweet and sour glaze. The dish had a surplus of ingredients and flavor.
The pad see ew ($9.95) was peppery, and the sweetness of soy thoroughly seeped into the supple noodle sheets. Balancing it out were Chinese broccoli's bitterness and crunch.
Their larb kai ($8.95), a cold salad of ground chicken, used too much sugar, not enough lime juice, but the mint grounded what could've been cloying. The beef in the beef panang ($10.95) were tender, sliced against the grain, wading in a caramel-hued gravy that reached its potential when poured over rice and enjoyed like the coconut-tempered curry it is.
So how does Thai Cafe rank among Orange County's best Thai restaurants? Well, it's still no Thai Nakorn; but it's no Thai Kitchen, if you get my drift.
14715 Jeffrey Rd
Irvine, CA 92618
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Watermarc - Laguna Beach*
*Special Thanks to Brekkie Fan for the tip on Watermarc.