Southeast Asia With a Car Wash

Photo by Jack GouldIt seems like a dish from a bad Vincent Price movie: red curry with coconut milk. Does this meal, combining the ephemeral beverage of motherhood with a spice cultivated in hell, exist outside moviedom? Amazingly enough, it does—and it's good, in a yin-yang, opposites-attract sort of way. So let's say, "Dee jai thee dai phob" (which, perhaps, conveys both "Christ, my mouth is on fire" and "Pleased to meet you") to the creators of this dish, the Thais, and to the owners of Win Thai Cuisine, located far from the Tragic Kingdom in northern Anaheim.

In a strip mall off of the 91 freeway, hidden from view by a giant car wash, Win Thai is a flagship in the county's emerging Thai community. Nearby, you'll find two other Thai restaurants, beauty salons, a Thai market, two Laotian markets, a Laotian restaurant, and a Thai/Burmese video store. What distinguishes Win Thai, the first business to open here back in the mid-'90s, is its overhead marquee written in both Roman and Thai script. The written Thai alphabet may rival Arabic as the most ornate in the world, and it's everywhere in Win Thai, from the newspapers strewn around the restaurant to the menu itself.

You can grab a menu yourself or sit and give your order to cheerful owner Sue Pirompramate. For starters, order any meal with pad Thai noodles. This delicious concoction of bean sprouts, ground peanuts and noodles is served in a huge platter meant for two. After that, your decision becomes more daunting, and you'll be excused for feeling like a North Korean with Don Bren's credit card suddenly dumped into a Gelson's supermarket. Win Thai offers 116 items, ranging from traditional rice dishes to more exotic fare such as spicy green mussel salad.

Thai food is notoriously spicy, but thanks to my lifelong reliance on Tapatio sauce, my mouth is to spice what asbestos is to fire. Imagine my surprise, then, when I was drenched with sweat after eating the aforementioned red curry and milk. A word to the wise: this is the sort of dish to test the tongue of a man of steel. Soda is available, but try the smooth, creamy Thai iced tea.

The soups are a bit expensive—$4.95 for a small bowl, $6.95 for the large (small is big, large is tureen-sized)—but delectable. Try the house specialty: the sugary, spicy oxtail soup, and be ready for a treat. For dessert, feast on peanuts prepared in the Thai tradition: soaked in water overnight and then steamed for three to four hours.

People who live nearby can take advantage of Win Thai's ludicrously cheap lunch specials. Ranging from $4.95 to $6.95, they are—as is nearly everything here—served in portions to rival the terrifying Claim Jumper.

Scenic paintings adorn the walls in tandem with pictures of pagodas and temples. Look for the television, where Sue's daughter watches Rugrats with her grandmother. The background music is not classical Thai music but either cheesy Asian pop or—perhaps because this is Orange County—Latino standards such as "Guantanamera" and "La Malagueña" played on classical guitar. The clientele is eclectic, drawing families from the nearby Arab, Asian and Latino communities. In this neighborhood, you can finish your Thai dish, rent a Burmese action/love/comedy film, and then buy some Laotian candy. Is this a great country or what?

Win Thai Cuisine, located at 1151 N. Euclid St., Anaheim, is Open Tues.-sun., 11 a.m.-9 p.m. (714) 778-0940. lunch for two, $11, food only. Beer available. MC and Visa accepted for purchases over $20.


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