(Cashew Chicken - lunch portion)
Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. When times are tough and I'm tired of dealing with the drudgery of the daily grind, a cozy neighborhood joint serving comfort food is what I need. The grub doesn't need to be great, as long as it's filling and I can eat with rice and a spoon.
Enter Thai Kitchen, one of the few Thai restaurants in Irvine, well as one of the few eateries open past 9:00pm. Since that's often when I get back from the office, Thai Kitchen is a regular in my late-night dinner rotation. After long day's work and a tiring commute, I need something spicy to invigorate my body and refresh my mind.
They may not know my name at Thai Kitchen, or even remember me between visits, but they darn well make me feel like I do. The space is friendly and inviting, as are the wait staff. The owner seems to be there every night. She's a charming lady with a warm smile and an unfailingly cheerful personality, even when dealing with difficult customers. Although I probably only visit the restaurant a few times a year, she always makes me feel relaxed.
(elonweis is a regular.)
The food is middling-to-good, depending on what you order. Adjusted for American tastes, it's sweeter, thicker, less sour, and less spicy than more authentic fare. This strategy makes sense, given Thai Kitchen's location in the center of Irvine. How many Thai people do you think live in this part of Orange County? Not many. Most of their clientele is white or from other Asian cultures.
However, many of Thai Kitchen's dishes are delicious regardless of their authenticity. The Tom Kha Kai (Coconut Milk Chicken Soup) is a good example. While it lacks the mouth-puckering sear of the traditional version, the flavorful stock and richness from coconut milk give it great depth. Both elonweis and Cat are in love with it.
The Ruby Siam, a kicked up version of their Cashew Chicken, melds fresh vegetables, tender slices of chicken, and crunchy cashews with a classic Thai basil chili sauce. The syrupy, fiery red elixir packs enough heat to get my blood flowing, yet is gentle on my tongue and stomach. It's Cat's favorite dish.
If you're a stickler for the pure stuff, the trick to navigating Thai Kitchen's menu is to ignore most of it and order off of the Thai Specials section in the back. These are purer offerings closer in flavor to their traditional counterparts. One of my favorite items are their Spicy Thai Sausages. These crispy tubes of meaty goodness have an aggressive tartness and a deceptively gentle heat that builds slowly until even a devoted chili head, such as yours truly, is left groping for his water glass. Thankfully, Thai Kitchen also provides a selection of peanuts, fresh vegetables, and herbs to temper the sting, as well as a wedge of raw cabbage to kill the flames. The combination of flavors and sensations are startlingly complex and inarguably delicious.
elonweis and I are both fond of Thai Kitchen's Spicy Fried Catfish. We order it at every Thai restaurant we visit, using it to gauge their skill and the authenticity of their cuisine. Thai Kitchen's version has a reasonable amount of heat from fresh chilies backing it up. The catfish are cooked to a texture perfect for soaking up the thick sauce, and the fried basil lends its perfume to the entire dish. This, and a big plate of rice (which will cost you an extra dollar, as it will at all Thai restaurants), is a little dollop of happiness for an exhausted panda.
Thai Kitchen - It's not the best Thai food in the county, but it's definitely the best in Irvine. The prices are very reasonable for Thai restaurants in the area.
Spicy Thai Sausage - 8.95
Cashew Chicken - 7.50/10.50 (lunch/dinner)
Tom Kha Kai - 7.50/10.50 (bowl/hotpot)
Ruby Siam - 8.25/10/95 (lunch/dinner)
Spicy Fried Catfish - 14.95
4250 Barranca Pkwy # U
Irvine, CA 92604