Photo by Jeanne RiceThe front page of the Thai Wave menu has a handy guide to 15 basic Thai phrases. The one for "delicious"—a-roy—comes in very handy.
I'd nearly given up on finding tremendous Thai food in Orange County. There are certainly several very good spots, and Thai food innately has more going for it than most cuisines. But compared with the Pacific Northwest, where you can find even in small towns Thai bistros that will tear your head off and pour yellow curry down your gullet, our great megalopolis is wanting.
Thai is like weed, and so, whether "tremendous" or merely "excellent," you won't find me complaining too much. Chiles get you high! Haven't we all left a table after a Thai meal or some similarly spicy cuisine with an unaccountable buzz? Well, either you're having flashbacks because everything you've been told about illicit substances is true and you're going to spend the rest of your life slobbering in an institution while the ghost of John Mitchell smacks you with a ruler, or a beneficent universe has provided you with more forms of human catnip than are dreamt of in the philosophies of our legislators.
Who needs genetic engineering when we've already got food that gives you the munchies? Nearly everything I've tried at Thai Wave in Newport Beach is a bit of a-roy. Most of the salads give you a choice between the standard sweet ground peanut dressing or a refreshing spicy lime dressing, and even their basic green salad boasts several veggies and tofu. The piquant tom yum soup is crowded with chicken (or shrimp, if you'd rather) in a lemongrass broth with just a hint of Bactine.
The yellow curry, with its coconut-milk-based broth, is my yardstick for measuring Thai restaurants. It may be one of the least exotic items, but sometimes perfection is that simple. Thai Wave's is fine, if not superfine, though it is a mite mild. Most of the dishes here, though, can be ordered spiced to your taste, and I'd recommend asking them to up the octane on this one.
Their other Thai staple, pad Thai, is nothing out of the ordinary but splendid nonetheless. The fresh ingredients, clean preparation and playful spicing would be impressive at prices well above Thai Wave's, which for most entres is between $7 and $8 at the dinner hour (to which you can add a salad, egg roll and rice to many items to arrive at a $8.95 total) and a mere $4.95 at lunch.
The drunken noodles arrive plenty spicy, with green and yellow bell peppers, iceberg lettuce, zucchini, carrots, onions, cilantro, and egg stir-fried with rice noodles and your choice of protein: chicken, beef, pork or (for a buck more) shrimp. Many other items also give you the options of calamari, tofu, oyster mushrooms, scallops or mixed seafood. The scallops, though abundant, are small and not very flavorful (and more expensive), so I'd recommend sticking with the other choices.
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The menu has 68 entre items, multiplied out by the choice of meats, and there's an even balance between the spicy items (indicated with an asterisk) and the ones that won't send you on a trip. Among the latter is the broccoli oyster sauce, which may have enough broccoli and garlic in it to combat the artery-clogging-but-ever-so-good coconut milk in the other dishes.
In any event, make sure you survive long enough to try the sticky rice desserts. Mango is in season, and you can get fresh slices of it served with a marvelously gooey mound of sweet sticky rice shaped like a dolphin, with a pea for an eye, even.
The tiny Newport Beach restaurant does a lot of its business in takeout—and they deliver for free within a few miles—but it's also a pleasant place to dine in, with good service and the usual photos of Thai rulers dressed up like Faberg eggs on the walls.
Thai Wave, located at 211 62nd St., Newport Beach, is open Mon.-Thurs., 11 a.m.-10 p.m.; Fri.-Sat., 11 a.m.-10:30 p.m.; Sun., noon-10 p.m. (949) 645-3057. Beer and wine. Dinner for two, $13-$35, food only. MC and Visa accepted.