Monday, September 28, 2009

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.

Thai Nakorn
(714) 583-8938
12532 Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92843-1907

To read Das Ubergeek's review on
Thai Nakorn CLICK HERE
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
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25 Comments:

At 10:17 PM, Blogger Sawyer said...

heard so much about this place...been wanting to try it out. thanks for the suggestions! and do they have koi soi? please tell me they do....

 
At 10:21 PM, Blogger Eddie Lin said...

Excellent. I'm always looking for a good Thai place and this seems to be the best. Does Thai Nakorn do a naked shrimp?

 
At 11:02 PM, Anonymous girlrobot said...

Oooh....I've been to the one in Stanton and it was really good. Can't wait to try this one!

 
At 8:37 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Must....go...here...SOOOON!
Although I do prefer the nam sod w/ the crispy rice, as it adds yet another dimension of texture & flavor to the dish.Do you think getting there by 6 on a weekend would avoid the parking issues?
And I gotta try those clams!

 
At 6:36 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Excellent! Another restaurant to add to my must try in OC list. And plus it is close to our OC driving route. All for the better.

 
At 9:07 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Sawyer,

Everything you heard is true! And yes, they do have raw beef salad!

Eddie,

Hmm...naked shrimp...that one I'm not sure of. But they also don't have pad see ew on the menu, yet they make it if you ask for it.

girlrobot,

This one, they say, is even better. The more experienced cooks is said to be at the Garden Grove location now.

christoofat,

6 is perfect. I observed people rolling in at about 7-7:30. Actually when I got there around 6:45, there was plenty of parking. And the clams are awesome...but then everything is!

EatTravelEat,

Put this on the top of the list. There are a lot of good Thai restaurants in OC, but only TWO great ones...you know which I'm talking about!

 
At 8:52 AM, OpenID mangelorange said...

They do actually have pad see ew on the menu -- it's the last item on the specials page, called "Rice Noodle with Egg & Chinese Broccoli (Choice of Meat or Seafood)".

 
At 9:09 AM, Blogger Bill said...

Wow I use to drive all the way to Stanton and now I'm even further to even get a chance to go back the the GG location. Oh well always a next time.

 
At 1:26 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

I can't thank you enough for finally getting me to Thai Nakorn and I definitely want to try this revamped location! I may take an out-of-town visitor there next weekend, but we'll see what he's in the mood for.

 
At 7:56 PM, Blogger Wandering Chopsticks said...

Ah, it's nice to see them back. I remember they burned down around when I started blogging. It's been years!

 
At 1:36 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Which do you like better -- Thai Nakorn or Renu Nakorn in Norwalk?

 
At 10:23 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Das,

Well I'll be. I guess my eyes just went right by it. Also a few times, before I noticed it was actually on the menu, we ordered the morning glory by just saying "kang kung".

Bill,

Where are you now anyways? It sucks that you are missing out the OC dining scene at its most interesting!

Melissa,

I still need to try Siam Taste of Asia. If this Thai Nakorn didn't open, I would've suggested Siam to my friend, who as kind enough to treat me for this meal for my b-day.

Wandering Chopsticks,

Was it that long ago?! You've been blogging forever!!! And I still seem to recall that morning they burned down like it was yesterday!

Anonymous,

I'm going to say Thai Nakorn because I've been going there for practically half my life. Both has its charms though.

 
At 10:27 AM, Anonymous plumpdumpling said...

I'm so glad to have found your blog! My boyfriend of three years is from Orange County, but I've never been able to go with him on one of his visits home (we both live in NYC). Now when I finally do get the chance, I'll know where to eat. I'm excited to follow you.

 
At 1:13 PM, Anonymous Ape said...

Those clams are making me drool. Do you know if the shrimp paste is the same as Filipino shrimp paste (bagoon/bagoong)? I eat bagoon with my mom's makes kare-kare, my favorite Filipino comfort food.

Thanks for the great review!

 
At 1:59 PM, Anonymous Marvin said...

I love fried trout at Thai places. And the fact that it comes with a mango and chili salad makes it more alluring.

I also enjoyed your use of the term "flop sweat".

 
At 8:39 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

plumpdumpling,

Welcome! And by the way, I love your name! And Thai Nakorn should definitely be your first stop here.

April,

It's actually different than bagoong. It's funky, but a different kind of funky -- a lot saltier, earthier, darker. If you've ever had Malaysian belacan or Indonesian terasi, it's a little more like that!

Marvin,

The mango salad makes this dish and it does bring on the flop sweat, though I use the term not as it's intended, as I'm thinking about the flops of flesh where my once washboard stomach used to be!

 
At 10:04 AM, Anonymous Craig Medici said...

I have been twice and tasted 15+ dishes and except for an "off" clam dish and too thickly skinned egg roll (not my choice to order) everything has been exceptional. I happened to go here the same week I was in Las Vegas where I grabbed lunch at the famous Lotus of Siam. I gotta say...Vegas may not have the best Thai restaurant anymore.

 
At 2:39 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Craig,

I'd agree with you. I think I'd take Thai Nakorn over LoS right now for the crown, and not just because I'm rooting for the home team!! And wow! 15+ items? You are hard core now!

 
At 7:04 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

Took the wife there this past Saturday and had a wonderful meal!
Lots of big family groups, lots of smiling faces (including ours)The (apparent)owner lady was doting on the table next to ours, bringing them dishes to try (note to self : get to know her!) This place underlines why Thai food is so good!

 
At 8:02 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

So true! And so glad you tried it!

 
At 7:02 AM, Anonymous James said...

Good to know that the GG location has risen from the ashes! Always loved the Stanton location - can't wait to try that trout when I make it back to socal this winter.

 
At 7:17 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

James,

Eat there you must! Enjoy it you will!

 
At 8:10 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

Just went. Got the whole fried trout, but didn't think the mango salad was very spicy. Perhaps he just went with "medium" as I indicated for the beef with basil (for the sake of my dining companion). Said beef basil was DELICIOUS. Best I've ever had and I never thought I'd say that because of Siam's. It was a phenomenal dish. My friend also requested spring rolls and they were much different - better, and more flavor/meat-packed - than any others I've tried.

Still need to have the morning glory, but I'll do it alone when I don't have to worry about the tastes of a dining partner. :)

 
At 3:32 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Melissa,

AH! So glad you liked it! "The best I've ever had" from you is a ringing endorsement that Thai Nakorn should be glad to receive! Of all the foodies I know, yours is the tastebud I trust most on Thai food, especially since your tongue seems to be able to withstand the spicy punishment the cuisine usually brings. Mine is wimpy.

I know, I know, I really need to try Siam Taste of Asia. And I'm already planning on it. That is after my tongue has healed from this Thai Nakorn foray.

 
At 10:39 PM, Blogger Melissa said...

Okay... shhh, don't tell anyone hehe, but, um, I think Thai Nakorn has taken over for me as the best Thai in OC. After trying a couple dozen places, I definitely feel like I can make an informed decision. And that place is just amazing. I somehow get the feeling that food tastes like that in Thailand. There is just something about it.

One thing Nakorn and Siam do have in common is that they seem to take real time and care with their food. When I get a dish with onion, chiles and bell peppers, I can be assured that they will not be served in large haphazard pieces. They will be sliced and diced the way I would do it myself at home. Same goes for the chunks of perfectly seared yet tender pieces of beef or chicken. These things seem like a given, if you want to serve good food in a Thai restaurant, but, alas, they are the only two that do that perfectly.

You can still try Siam of course. And I would still recommend the fried tofu and the fish with green curry sauce. Everything else is up to you. Nothing there is bad but...

...nothing is as mind-blowing as Thai Nakorn. I feel badly saying that; Siam is so, so wonderful and sweet and I do still love her food. But I'm a TN convert. I had the fried fish/mango salad leftovers for *breakfast* for god's sake. And I want to go back constantly right now to try, like, everything. Thanks for motivating me to go in the first place. :)

 

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