Bangkok Spice: The Persistence of Thai
Some restaurant locations in Orange County should just be razed, condemned, sowed with salt to ensure no one wastes hundreds of thousands of dollars on it ever again because nothing seems to stick. On our Stick a Fork In It blog, Edwin Goei always refers to a spot off Newport Boulevard in Tustin that has seen about five eateries come and go over five years, everything from Hawaiian to Vietnamese crawfish to every Korean culinary trend (barbecue, karaoke, even tacos) imaginable. I know of a strip mall in Anaheim that saw a Vietnamese dive, a Peruvian place and a taquería fail; it currently hosts a Thai restaurant that always seems another empty weekend away from closure (running a Thai dive across the street from Anaheim High School, with the legendary MOS II down the street? Not smart).
Then again, some of those Bermuda Triangles eventually find their conqueror. Such is the case with Bangkok Spice, operating from a small room that saw at least three Thai restaurants fail before it set up shop in 2003. This area isn't exactly welcoming to Siamese newcomers—the iconic Supatra's Thai Bistro is just minutes away down Esperanza Road in Yorba Linda, and the shopping plaza where Bangkok Spice stands is in a section of Anaheim Hills more railroad than cul-de-sacs. But the family that runs it has found its groove, drawing eaters from around northeast OC and nowhere near done with its run.
The menu is in the higher echelons of county Thai fare—all the meals such as pineapple fried rice, pad Thais and yellow/red/green curries that suburbanites have assimilated, but also next-level challenges including green papaya salad (refreshing on all spice levels, but best when the heat blasts through your sinuses), larb (juicy chicken minced so fine it's a miracle the South Coast Air Quality Management District hasn't demanded eaters consume it while breathing through a filter) and a sweet massamun curry heavy on the peanuts. You'll have to dig deep into the menu—and do dig, as all of Bangkok Spice's dishes come in big portions and nuanced, well-balanced flavors—to find the one regional specialty: Chu Chee Surprise, a red curry spiked with kaffir lime leaves and basil. The familiar sweetness of red curry gets emboldened with the astringent kaffir lime and the aromatic basil, the resultant sauce slathered over a Mekong of veggies, shrimp and scallops. May Bangkok Spice see many more years in its bunker—now, if it can only share the secret of slaying the failure dragon with that other place in Tustin. . . .
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Orange County dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.