Sunday, May 28, 2006

Thai Nakorn - Garden Grove - A Photo Superpost

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
(714) 537-5011
12532 Garden Grove Blvd
Garden Grove, CA 92843

*UPDATE (January 8, 2007): Thai Nakorn has been destroyed by an early morning fire. Read the OC Register story here.


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

I so miss eating at Thai Nakorn! I'm really glad it's up and running at the Garden Grove location. I have fond memories of Thai Nakorn coz it's one of the first restos me and my family ate at when we first immigrated to Orange County.

Do they sell their snacks on the side like they did at their defunct Buena Park location? Do they also have a karaoke corner as well?

At 11:25 AM, Blogger zhulander said...

thanks so much for the encouragement! and the linkage, too =]
and for reviewing all these great places (and giving me--and the rest of your readership, i'm sure--new ideas of where to eat!)

At 12:18 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


They do still sell the snacks seen at the Buena Park location, but it seems the variety is smaller than I remember. But the karaoke, I'm not sure they kept...there's a separate back room with a full bar that I rarely get seated at, so perhaps they hid it back there.


I try my best. Hope to read more from you when you get a chance to write!

At 12:28 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Elmo - I really need to put Thai Nakorn on my "to eat" list. So maybe I won't need to go to LA for a "good Thai" anymore.

At 2:19 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


It's definitely less of a schlep than Thai Town from us "Southies". I'll even be bold and suggest that it might even beat out those LA Thai Restaurants too!

At 9:27 PM, Blogger Passionate Eater said...

For the first time, I actually think I'm going to have to disagree with you Elmo. Grape Nuts catfish niblets?!? I have to have at least chewable protein substance in my dish. Do you think it would taste better with larger, more substantive filets of fish, or does the spicy sauce better permeate those little meat kernels?

Instead of "Where's the beef," I'm saying, "Show me the money pieces of fish!"

At 11:27 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are so mean! Incredibly mean! You brought back a huge wave of memories from my trip to Thai Nakorn with J. last year. What a fantastic dinner we had. Simply the best Thai food I have ever had. I am so envious.

Alas, I shall find solace in my cheese crisp. :o)

Great review!

At 12:19 AM, Blogger Kathy YL Chan said...

Ooooh. Everything is droolworthy...never thought I would have a sudden craving for savory grapenuts, lol! We have a good number of Thai places in Hawaii - but the menus are suspiciously lacking in many of the dishes you had!

At 11:10 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Since we gazed longingly at a whole grilled catfish being served at another table, I can't lie and say that we weren't initially disappointed. It's like you're expecting to meet Julia Roberts, but instead, Julia Sweeney shows up. But then, you find Ms. Sweeney is a funny, engaging, down-to-earth, and charming character all her own. Soon you forget all about Julia Roberts and figure she would've been too high maintenance anyway.

Still, I think Thai Nakorn should consider changing the name of that dish to something more appropriate to what it actually is (especially figuring that it's half the price of the grilled catfish dish). I suggest "Mango Salad with Crispy Catfish Crumbles"...although it lacks a certain "Je ne sais quoi" it'll save a lot of people from some disappointment -- if only until they realize that the dish is as good as Julia Sweeney is funny.


You know what? I read your old Thai Nakorn post right after I wrote this latest one and discovered that we almost ordered the exact same dishes! (The satay photo I pushed back to the old Thai Nakorn review I had).


Thai Nakorn has a regional specialties menu on the first page -- cuisine indigenous from where the cooks in the back are from. Eclectic items like Wild Boar Curry and other non-run-of-the-mill items abound. I am sorry I didn't order the Stir Fried Morning Glory dish from that menu this time. Delicious!

At 12:39 PM, Blogger 冬冬 said...

ack, I just came back from Bangkok, but I didn't get any malaria shots before I went... was I supposed to? hehehe.. oh well~~~

At 12:43 PM, Blogger BoLA said...

Wow! Looks absolutely delicious! I love Thai (on mild heat though). Maybe I'll try this place this weekend when I'm down in the OC. Thanks for the heads up. Great post, as always!

At 9:05 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

the bill,

There's also the Stir Fried Morning Glory, the Deep Fried Fish with Mango Salad (a boneless deep fried fish tail), the Chicken Curry...too many to name. I think next trip, I'm going to try the more exotic stuff I've been convieniently the Wild Boar Curry and such.


Nah, no real need for malaria shots if you're just visiting the cities or resorts of Thailand. There's no risk there. I heard it's probably a good idea if you're visiting more rural areas but you can do without it there too (very low risk) long as you don't get bitten by a mosquito carrying malaria! HA!


I hope you like it! Thai Nakorn is OC's little gem. And yes, be sure to specify "mild" heat, because they don't seem to tone it down until you ask.


Calamari stuffed with pork eh? I'm going to have to check that out! Thanks!

At 5:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ooh, awesome--must try! Your blog's a godsend to a lazy non-achiever like myself who doesn't like to try new places :P

At 4:45 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

The Bill,

Hope you like it!


Thanks for the list of other things to try! I'm always looking for new items to try on their menu. I usually get at least one thing that I haven't tried before when I dine out there. The stir fried morning glory is one of my all time faves though...I get it almost every time I go...I forget why I didn't get it on this trip. Oh well. Next time.


Definitely one of those places you simply must try, especially if you close by!

At 7:50 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Yep...I love Ocean Star too. Been there lots of times. Just didn't have a camera those times. Perhaps soon I will return and take pictures and do a proper review.

At 6:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The coconut ice cream looks to be topped with palm seeds, a chewy, almost-translucent fruit which can be found canned in syrup at most asian markets.

Try the coconut flan! Sooooo good! :D~

At 4:01 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


AHH! Thank you! Palm seeds! That's what it was. I knew it was a natural product but couldn't figure it out.

At 5:11 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I have been to Favori, Sea Harbour, and Din Tai Fung. Although the last time I was at Favori (I did try the baked catfish) was before I got into this food blogging thing. Might have to go back soon. I like their French side of the menu better than the VN side.

The Rosemead Sea Harbour I've tried before I blogged, but loved it. I've been to the Rowland Heights Sea Harbour before it broke off and became Happy Harbour and reviewed it here.

And I love Din Tai Fung. Although the wait it unbearable. I also like Mei Long Village which I think is just as good. But with no lines. I've got a review I've been putting off for the latter. Might have to write it soon.

Haven't tried that sushi place next to Cafe Hiro, but I heard there's an all-you-can-eat sushi somewhere in Cypress that's very good.

Thanks for letting me know about Jasmine Thai. Just means I'll come back to Thai Nakorn whenever I'm in the mood for more Thai food.

At 11:17 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I finally had a chance to check this place out today. Of the five things I tried, the standout dish was the beef with green chili and basil. Very spicy but deeelish. The crab egg rolls were tasty, too. I'm so glad I learned about this place! Next time, I'm getting the pomfret fish and the stuffed squid.

At 11:19 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Wow! You sure get around! Have you thought about blogging your exploits? Sounds like you've got a lot of experience eating in and around OC. BTW, I've been wanting to try Russell's...and it's been a while since I've had dim sum. Glad to hear you liked it!

At 11:22 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Hey thanks for reporting back! Glad you liked it. I'm putting Beef with Green Chili and Basil on my list, along with Crab Roll. A friend said once that he can put a finger randomly on the menu and said that he was sure it was going to be good. He's probably right.

At 3:02 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


I like that Stir Fried Morning Glory too....good stuff! Good luck on the bun rieu oc making!

At 10:26 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Try the BBQ Catfish and the Beef Panang, they're spectacular!

At 8:28 AM, Blogger christoofat said...

There's another Thai Nakorn in So.OC, on Margurite Pkwy, across from the CPK,in the center where Trader Joe's is. Used to be KILLER, as it was owned by same people as the one in Buena Park. Authentic Northern Thai, cooked muy authentico. But the place was sold, they got a different chef, changed the menu, & prettied up the place. Still seviceable food, but my love affiar with the place has grown distant...

At 2:27 PM, Blogger christoofat said...

Paid another visit to the (former)
Thai Nakorn in Mission Viejo. Now it is named "Glass Door" Thai. It appears that the same people still own it/work there snce the last time we visited. The dining area is pretty, well lit & inviting. But...the prices have crept up a little, & the quality seems to have slipped. Nam Sod w/ crispy rice (my former all time fave at this place) came out too greasy, and the Tom Ka Khai is now more towards the citrus-y side of flavor than the coconutt-y side it used to be on. Plus service was uneven & slow. They could use one more waitperson working during dinner hours. Still "good", but not "great" as it once was.

At 2:42 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Interesting! I had heard that that Thai Nakorn is owned (or was owned) by a relative of the owners of the Garden Grove branch...but then that relative sold it. Perhaps the original Thai Nakorn owners requested that they change their name. I wonder if the Garden Grove branch still alludes to the MV branch in the menu.

At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The MV store was owned by Sab's sister. Sab is Thai Nakorn, as we know and love it.

Whether it was sold or not, maybe they made it change names so that nobody would eat there and think it was anything like the Garden Grove restaurant.

At 4:47 PM, Blogger Ralph said...

Is Sab = Sam = the guy losing his hair with copious facial hair and an irrepressable smile?

At 11:52 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thai food is delicious!

At 3:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The soups are good and the Pad Thai is excellent.

But the fried pomfret fish was a big disappointment. It smelled strongly of old fish even after being fried, which means it was not fresh at all. Another indication of unfreshness was the white flesh. It wasn't flakey like fresh fish. It disintegrated at the touch of our chopsticks. I don't recommend it even though it looks good.

At 3:34 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

To all,

A sad day this is for Thai food lovers. Thai Nakorn has burned down to the ground. It happened early this monring (Jan. 8, 2007). Hope they will recover and be better than ever. Take a look at the news story I've linked at the end of the article.

At 8:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

There is a Thai Nakorn in Mission Viejo. I don't know if it's related, but it may be a glimmer of hope...for those willing to travel to south county.

At 8:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Elmo,
I may have spoke too soon. I went by the restaurant in Mission Viejo with the "Thai Nakorn" sign on the building to pick up a take out menu, only to find that the name of the restaurant on the menu is "The Glass Door". What's up with that? Still, I hope to try it as Thai is slim pickings around here.

At 9:08 AM, Blogger Ralph said...

thai nakorn is no more..

At 4:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thai Nakorn will be missed!!!!Hope they plan to rebuild SOON!!!!

At 5:04 AM, Blogger Cjalatorre said...

I was incredible sad to hear it was gone. It sounds like there are plans to rebuild though. I'll just leave the link to another blog that commented on the rebuilding.

At 6:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thai Nakorn Update at link

if you don't want to link though, the short story is that because it will take longer then 3 months to rebuild, they are looking for a new location in Westminister or Garden Grove.

At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Elmo,

Good news regarding new Thai Nakorn location. See

At 5:29 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Thanks everyone for the updates! I heard about the reopening this weekend. I'm going to go!

At 6:38 PM, Anonymous Gilbert said...

Hi Elmo,

Thought you might want to know that the risen-from-the-ashes Garden Grove location of Thai Nakorn is now open! We had lunch there this afternoon (Sunday). The waitress who knows my family from years of dining at the Buena Park/Garden Grove/Stanton locations said that they opened on Saturday. It seems like they have more seating for the main restaurant. They still have a private room but today that room was being used for a photo or video shoot of certain menu items (we saw their specialty "Pla Dad Deaw" on some computer monitors in the room).

The best thing I can say is everything we ordered tasted the same as at any previous location of Thai Nakorn (we ordered pla dad deaw, nuah dad deaw, rad na talay, and water spinach)! They only had about 20 people including us at 1pm but I expect that to grow as word gets out (that's where you come in!) Hope to see your writeup on your blog or in OC Weekly soon!

At 8:17 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...


That's wonderful news! I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to quote you on a post that I'm writing right now on Stick a Fork In It updating everyone on this exciting news!

Now OC has two Thai Nakorns! Wonderful!


Post a Comment

<< Home