Don’t let the hipster Edison bulbs fool you; Khaosan serves up savory Thai classics and surprising signature dishes. This cozy spot in Santa Ana’s section of Little Saigon sits between old-school Viet institutions and fluorescent-lit dives.
Before you start in on the entrées, order the roti, a crepe-like flatbread that’s soft and buttery and doesn’t shatter upon contact. It’s served with a small bowl of sweet, subtly spiced, coconut-milk yellow curry dipping sauce. The fish cakes, a common Thai street food that’s served here with a cucumber sauce, are also great for sharing. The spongy golden discs burst with aromatic flavors from the red curry paste and the briny tang of the fish, plus there’s crunchiness from the long beans. Something of a signature, the delicious almond-crusted tofu bites are paired with a sweet chile sauce. You’ll also find chicken and beef satays on the limited menu.
For the most part, Khaosan’s dishes are mild. It’s not your high-spice northern Isan Thai fare, so if you’re looking for heat, you’ll have to request prik nam pla (Thai chile in fish sauce). The kitchen serves some solid curries, especially the panang, a red curry that is thick, salty and sweet, with red bell peppers and kaffir lime leaves. Other highlights include the Thai-style grilled pork ribs and the beef salad tossed in a spicy lime marinade with lettuce, cucumber and tomato.
Khaosan makes a fine pad Thai, but the noodle to eat here is actually pad see ew—slippery flat rice noodles stir-fried in soy sauce with chicken morsels and Chinese (and regular) broccoli. It’s a dish we can’t get enough of. The crab fried rice is delicate and classic, made with lump crab meat, sweet onions, scallions, tomato and egg. But if seafood isn’t your thing, go for the pineapple version.
If you still have room, finish your meal with coconut ice cream, a refreshing treat that’s not too sweet. Prices here are extremely fair, and the service is friendly, making Khaosan a great addition to your Thai-food rotation.
Khaosan Thai, 3520 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 760-4595.