Thai Nakorn - Garden Grove
Two is always better than one, especially when it comes to Thai Nakorn. The venerable restaurant, considered by many (including myself), as the best Thai in O.C., has multiplied.
As everyone knows, there's one in Stanton, which opened because this Garden Grove store burned to the ground a few years ago.
Now, the Garden Grove sibling has risen up again, and yes, quite literally, from the ashes like the proverbial phoenix. But look! This bird's grown out new plumage! The place got a facelift, the only kind I can't mock, because the restaurant does look a lot younger than before.
This, ladies and gents, is the most stylish Thai Nakorn ever. Not that disliked the way the old building looked, with its A-frame Googie charms, but this, to put simply, is up with the times and an elegance that befits the food.
Even without all the new recessed lighting, this dining room would shine, with tables so sleek it gleams like mirrors. There are private banquet rooms, the requisite photo of the king, and enough elbow room for everyone to pass around plates of their fantastic dishes.
If you are new to the place, allow me to offer a tip: Come here with lots of people. The more mouths you bring, the more you can order, the more you can sample. Trust me, you'll want a taste of everything.
Another tip: the parking lot is still as tiny as ever, with a capacity to accommodate about ten cars at the most. We were lucky. We arrived early at quarter to seven, before the dinner rush was in full swing, so we easily secured a spot. Those who came in the thick of it all had to resort to inventing their own parking spaces.
Also, if you're new, go ahead and get the pad thai, the satay, the tom yum. They'll be the best version you'll have anywhere. But when you're ready, mix in some dishes from the Issan specialties. This is the list on the first page of the menu; the one crammed in single space with no prices. Among other things you'll see here: The stir fried morning glory, one of the most vibrant, refreshing plates of stir-fried greens you'll ever crunch.
You'll also encounter the clams, a dish that takes you deep into the jungle, into the hearty darkness and glorious stench of fermented shrimp paste. It clings to the clam shells, gathers on the plate like mud on a river bank, and sticks in your memory as one of the funkiest substances you've ever put in your mouth. It's delicious.
Another specialty is more accessible to all palates: The whole, deep-fried deboned trout. You eat it all. The skin crackles like dry parchment. The moist meat flakes. The golden casing of batter smacks of turmeric. On top of each morsel you pile shredded mango salad that comes in a side bowl. A warning: The stuff is riddled with finely diced Thai chilies you might not see at first, but will melt your face into dribbling mess of flop sweat and tears. Approach with extreme caution.
If it's already too late, cool off with a salad, which you should've already ordered. But don't think it'll provide much of a reprieve. The yum yai salad will do its best though, since it's probably the sweetest thing on the menu aside from dessert. Also, it is a salad the way a cobb salad is a salad. There's hard boiled egg in it, which works really well to soak up the sweet and sour sauce that coats everything else in the dish -- a roster that includes celery, tomato, cucumber, chicken, and the clear Jell-O jiggle of glass noodles.
The nam sod is also a good palate cleanser. With the dish, I'd suggest the plain nam sod over the one with crispy rice. In the latter, the nutty crunchiness of the Rice Krispy-like grains are pleasant at first but distracting when all you want to do is focus your attention in how the ginger slivers and lime juice join forces to make ground pork as light as a prance. Lettuce leaves, cilantro, ram-rod straight green onion stalks, and lemony leaves that make you pucker, are always served on the side to refresh -- as if you need it.
By the end of the night you'll groan, rub your stomach satisfied, and swear you'll never gorge yourself like that again...at least not until you come back to one of the two Thai Nakorns in O.C.
12532 Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92843-1907
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