Sunday, June 21, 2009

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.

Thai Cafe
(949) 559-5382
14715 Jeffrey Rd
Irvine, CA 92618

Watermarc - Laguna Beach*

*Special Thanks to Brekkie Fan for the tip on Watermarc.


At 8:16 AM, Blogger Stanielsan said...

It's really hard to eat at Thai restaurants after eating at Thai Nakorn. I liked how you used Thai Nakorn as a reference. I always ask my friends who tell me about new Thai restaurants if it is Thai Nakorn good. It seems that Thai Cafe is one of those places that is good to go to if you're in the neighborhood kind of thing rather than I'm gonna travel 30 min. to eat some awesome Thai food. Am I correct?

At 8:17 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

My sons both get pad see ew every time (with leftovers to spare) at our favorite Thai place. THey just love it.

Did you try any of the soups? I love a good tom kha.

At 8:49 AM, Blogger Jay said...

I ate there a couple times when I worked nearby and was never impressed but never disappointed. For wok'd dishes the Thai Spice branch up Jeffrey can be better during lunch when the two older Thai ladies are cooking. Of course stay away from anything they serve in a steam tray.

At 9:27 AM, Blogger KirkK said...

Hey Elmo - Sounds like one of those fairly solid "neighborhood" Thai joints.

At 10:25 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

There used to be a great little family owned Thai place off of Culver & the 5 , next to Chuck E. Cheeses that used to make the food "thai-style", not dumbed down for American palates. Between theirs & Thai Nakorn, I declare myself "spoiled" - I haven't found anything that comes close to the flavor experience. Thai Cafe doesn't hold promise for me, but as mentioned, it could be a good neighborhood place for food.
I wish I could invent a Thai Nakorn Cloning Device & spit them out about every 10 miles or so...

At 5:52 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Thai Nakorn has spoiled me too. And yup, you did get my drift! Thai Cafe is a solid, dependable neighborhood spot. If you live in Stanton (especially if you live in Stanton), there is no need to drive down to Irvine for this...just walk on over to Thai Nakorn!


Pad see ew has replaced pad thai as my preferred Thai noodle also. There's just more going on in pad see ew in my opinion.

I didn't get to try any of the soups, but get this, they have boat noodle! Boat noodle! In Irvine! That's the one I'm going for next time.


I like the Thai Spice on Jeffrey too. Their potato and chicken yellow curry is da bomb. And you're right, the dishes taste better when the two older Thai ladies are cooking...but I'm lucky, they seem to be there when I am.


Yep, everyone needs one of these in the neighborhood. Of course, I think we're blessed with a few of them in Tustin/Irvine. Now to discover more of them!


Tell me about it. But that cloning device needs to really dote on the details and be unshakable. They tried to replicate Thai Nakorn's success down in Mission Viejo once, but something was lost in the migration.

I guess I'm content in knowing that there is a Thai Nakorn around (after the Garden Grove one burned down, there wasn't one for a while).

Rumor is that the Garden Grove location is going to be opening up soon also.

And Chuck E. Cheese? In Irvine? That must've been like two decades ago?

At 7:22 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

LOL..yeah, it was probably 1990.
Actually the former "Thai Nakorn" in M.V. changed owners again (they still have that sign up on the building even though it's called the Glass Door or something), and it's a bit more like it's former self, food wise. They have nam sod w/ crispy rice, which used to be my fave dish back in the TN day. However they supply no fresh herbs along with it & the portion is 1/2 the size & it's now $9.95,
Here in AV ,we're stuck with Urban Thai Bistro (runs hot & cold, sometimes great other times meh), and Thai Bite, which expanded their dining room, but not their very bland.

At 8:09 AM, Blogger Stanielsan said...

I don't live near Stanton but I make the 30 minute trek to eat at Thai Nakorn every now and then. In a way that is good because if I lived closer, I would be eating there almost daily and go broke! Well, except during my usual Friday sushi feast.

A couple of weeks ago I was at Thai Nakorn and they had a sign saying that their Garden Grove branch will be opening soon. I saw them reconstructing the place when I had some business to attend to at the hospital across the street and it looks almost ready from the outside.

If I ever have work in Irvine and have a craving for Thai food, I will check out Thai Cafe.

At 10:07 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

Still need to try Thai Nakorn. Trust that it is on my list.

As I believe you know, I have an insane amount of Thai places bookmarked to visit, as it is my primary "List" on Yelp and the cuisine I focus on most.

Thai Cafe... well, some people I know hate it, some like it, no one loves it. I've been wavering on whether or not to visit and was leaning toward no... but I think now I'll at least give it one shot. That mee krob and the panang both look quite good.

At 4:42 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

I still need to visit Thai Nakorn which you mentioned again :). But I crossed off Quality Seafood off my list this weekend! It was really good, especially the freshly shucked oysters. We still need to try the uni there though, as it was sold out during our visit. They say to go on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday for the most stuff available.

The mee krob looks really interesting! I've never had that in a thai restaurant before.

At 10:58 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I guess I didn't miss much by never getting around to trying the MV TN when it was around in its original incarnation -- the real TN is equidistant to me as the one in MV. Nam sod with crispy rice...mmmm. But $9.95?! That's steep!


That's great news about the GG location! I'll have to check up on it again this weekend. If you, by chance, see that it's open before I do, please drop me a line.


I still have Siam Taste of Asia on my long list. Seriously, I have to buckle down and try it the next time I have a Thai craving. This restaurant is convenient for Tustinites like you and me (thank God it's also good!)

BTW, Thai Specialty 2 ain't bad either.


Mee Krob is great!! It's always treated an appetizer (I think it is street food/snack in Thailand), but I make it as part of the meal. Tastes a little like rice krispies.

I'm glad you got to try Quality Seafood. The uni thing has to be done once...but for me, I think once was enough. I like my uni fresh, but more dead.

At 9:40 AM, Blogger joanh said...

yum.. thai place on jeffrey.. gotta put it on my to-do list for when we go to tustin.

At 10:05 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


And from you I have so many things to check out if I'm ever in Taiwan!


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