Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sutha Thai Kitchen - Tustin

This is that kind of place. The kind of corner joint mostly known and patronized by locals, where the only print review on the window is a few paragraphs long, clipped out lovingly from a hidden section of a community paper and held up by Scotch tape.

It seats maybe twelve or fifteen people, tops. The square footage is scant. I have been inside closets with more room. Any smaller and it wouldn't be a restaurant. It reminds me of a diorama constructed of cardboard and Elmer's Glue -- the one I spent all night making for a fifth grade project.

A thin layer of drywall separates you from the kitchen, behind which you hear the unseen whoosh of the burner and the loud clangs of a metal spatula beating up a wok.

One night we came early, at about six, and we noted how sad it was that we were the only ones there. But then, slowly, surely, we were proven wrong. Customer after customer came. Before we knew it, the place was filled to capacity. We heard every word of conversation from the next table -- a blonde woman in a red pea coat and a man in dreadlocks -- and smelled their food as we waited for ours.

Last Friday night, we sat at a table near the entrance (which, let's face it, every table was), and we shivered as yet another patron would breeze in through the doorway. Though the storm had finally passed, the roads were still sleek and it was a damned freezing night -- a night made for soup and rice.

We were there for the tom kha gai. They use criminis instead of straw mushrooms, and cabbage as filler; but oh that silken coconut broth! It was exactly what we needed: a boiling pot filled with a hot/sour/sweet exilir that would warm our extremities and melt our frostbitten ears.

It's as good as any I've had. But truthfully, is there such a thing as bad tom kha gai? Even a mediocre rendition would be a good one, especially when served in one of those aluminum vessels with chimneys that double as space heaters. We rubbed our hands over it, letting the heat bring back some feeling and circulation to our fingers.

On top of hot sticky rice we spooned yellow curry, a bright-as-sunshine blend redolent of lemongrass, coriander and cumin, rounded out with plenty of coconut milk. The chicken was white meat, the potatoes crinkle cut meticulously by someone who cared.

You'd say the same about the nam sod we ordered. They took the time to chop the pork to tiny bits with a cleaver, instead of just taking the easy way out with ground pork. The rougher, coarser consistency lends itself better to the lime juice and the bracing ginger slivers used as flavoring.

By the time we started on the lard na, we were too stuffed. The thick gravy lubricating the wide rice noodle was slightly more vinegary, more assertive than I expected. Bits of minced garlic, unseen until you encounter one, exploded in tiny bursts behind every slurp.

Afterward we walked out warmed and satiated, our garlicky breaths curling in steamy puffs in the frigid air.

Sutha Thai Kitchen
(714) 734-6100
1161 Irvine Blvd.
Tustin, CA 92780

Il Dolce - Costa Mesa


At 9:19 PM, Anonymous JB said...

That pic of the yellow curry chicken, for a second, made me think I was reading the
James Cameron-directed version of Monster Munching. It looks so succulent, I was ready to poke a fork into my monitor.

Alas, yet another Elmomonster review where the photos validate the prose. The richness of the tom kha gai is evident. I feel as if I can even taste the lime of the nam sod. It's past 9 on Sunday night, and I'm about ready to jump on the northbound 55 toward Sutha Thai Kitchen.

One thing, why do I have the feeling that you made dioramas of banh mi shops?

At 11:19 PM, Anonymous Dave -nibbleanibble said...

Looks like a restaurant I might want to check out next time I'm in the area.

At 12:07 AM, Anonymous eaterdeltustin said...

I've ordered takeout here a few times and it is good for the price. The only thing I worry about is the future of this place, since this is like the third restaurant in that space in the last 2 or 3 years. The location is just not very good. But, this one looks promising. I hope it sticks around.

At 7:08 AM, Blogger christoofat said... had me at "nam sod"
Gotta check this place out, that is our fave Thai dish!

At 10:48 AM, Blogger Melissa said...

I like this place too and hope it lasts. The staff is so sweet. I've tried green curry, red curry, both good, pad kee mao (noodles clumped, boo), spring rolls, tom kha gai (you're right, it's a worthy rendition), stir fried chiles with mint (and chicken), and the pad prik king, which was the only thing here I can say I don't like. I thought it was strangely sweet.

I also have to give them kudos for always giving me a small bowl of nam pla prik when I get takeout. After my third visit or so, he really understood that I loved those little chiles and the ones they have are so fresh and delicious. Mmm. I think I'll have Thai for lunch...

At 2:09 PM, Blogger Juliet said...

That sounds oh, so comforting right now. I love Thai food! Especially in the winter. I have to laugh, though, at the thought of what temperature you might consider "cold." :-p

By the way, I did update my food blog last week. I'll plan on doing so more consistently. :-)

At 4:27 PM, Blogger EatTravelEat said...

Now, should I visit Thai Nakorn first or this place? I like rad na and this version looks so delectable :). Thank goodness it's not raining now. I also had to face the door opening situation and the blast of cold air several times last week...

At 1:57 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


If only I had a James Cameron sized budget! HAH! I'd be writing about all those fancy pants restaurants in L.A. And if I had to make a diorama now, it'd have to be of those oh-so-trendy taco trucks.


Definitely a restaurant to check out if you're within a few miles of its radius. I'd say that this is a neighborhood favorite, not something you'd want to drive up from San Diego or down from L.A. for (if you're from that far).


Yes! Me too. I remember the Thai place that used to be there before and the Chinese place, and the other Chinese place. This space has seen failure after failure. But looking at full-house the last two trips, it looks like this one is finally going to stick.


You'd probably notice it's one of our favorites too. We get it at every Thai joint we go to! And it's good here.


Concur. The owners are really, really nice. The kind of people you'd love to see succeed. And of course, the food is good. It's gotta be my favorite Thai in Tustin at the moment -- there when Thai Nakorn is just too far away!


The answer to what we consider cold? Daytime temps of anything below 70 degrees! Anything less than that send us running to our soups!


Definitely go to Thai Nakorn! This place is, for the moment, and in my opinion, the best Thai in Tustin. But Thai Nakorn is the best Thai in the state, if not the country!

At 4:34 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

Ha! Below 70 is my house is too cold. Actually, below 73 is too cold. I like things toasty. Outside, though, anything over 50 is good. Not saying I wouldn want to spend a lot of time out in anything below 60. But a light jacket would do just fine. And if I am walking, all is good.

At 11:26 AM, Anonymous eaterdeltustin said...

Yeah, there was also an "italian" place...can't remember the name but it had "tomato" in the title...Had it once, never again.


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