You can't find a better metaphor for modern-day Orange County than the birthday dinner I attended a couple of weeks ago at Sumran Thai Cuisine, in that sliver of western Westminster that's not Little Saigon. There were about a dozen of us, all Mexican-Americans, all children of immigrants who came to this country with nothing, only to have their kids become white-collar professionals: teachers and playwrights and artists and civil-rights activists and small-business owners and hack writers (me). All gathered to eat . . . Thai.
The Mexican love for Thai food isn't as prominent as our love for teriyaki bowls or pho, which has always surprised me given our cultures' mutual love of heat, tart and sweet. And while Thai food has long been popular in OC, it hasn't become a communal ritual à la taco runs or pub crawls. But at Sumran Thai, a lovefest was on display. Around us were tables filled with old, young, white, Vietnamese. Out came furious plates of green papaya salad, all about the funk of shrimp paste and the blinding hell of peppers. The E-San sausages, paired with peanuts and ginger, reminded us of chorizo; a tower of fried enoki mushrooms looked and tasted like chicharrón slivers. We all got drunk, of course: Singha and Shock Top, sake- and soju-based cocktails. I went with palm juice, a nonalcoholic drink so sweet I now can't look at chocolate without shuddering.
Sumran has streamlined its Thai-ness to appeal to a hipster crowd, with sleek lines and even a bar. But its core flavors are spectacular, making it one of the more underrated Thai joints in OC. And the staff is hilarious: At the end of the night, all of us bloated and happy, a young waitress gave us a scolding look. “None of you are going to eat the last egg roll?” she asked. We all waved our hands to signal “No más.”
“In Thai culture,” the waitress replied, “it's said that whoever eats the last egg roll on the table will marry a beautiful person.”
“But we're all married here,” my friend shot back.
“Well, maybe your next marriage in another life,” the waitress cracked. HA!