Hole In the Wall: Issara Thai, Masters of Makrut

OC's largest Thai enclave is in Anaheim; the county's sole Thai American politician is La Palma City Councilman Henry Charoen. Despite these facts, I still say Huntington Beach is the Thai capital of Orange County—yes, Huntington. Restaurants ring the city's neighborhoods, and residents obsess over the local joints like few other OCers, arguing the merits of Silk Thai and Phuket Thai, of Thai Pepper and Thai Gulf. This love seems strange to outsiders, given HB's lifelong love affair with Bro-Mex and drunken riots, but whatever: Those in the know are blessed to grow up in a town where pad Thai and satays are usually just a bike ride away.

Surf City's best Thai restaurant is also one of its newest: Issara Thai Cuisine. Open for about two years, its nicely kept dining room buzzes at all hours, and the scent of curries emanates from all the tables. The menu has all of Huntington's Thai favorites—slippery pad see ew (here, charmingly spelled as “you”) and fiery papaya salad—and classed-up others: a Crying Tiger features a delightful tamarind salsa, larb gets stuffed into a wrap (can't get too far away from burritos in HB), and a crispy rotisserie chicken glazed with lemongrass will make you forget about Zankou's. It even throws in more obscure dishes to prove its Thai mettle, such as the tod mun (the best fried fish patty you'll ever eat) and the hor mok (a fish tamale accompanied by kaffir lime leaves).

Ah, those kaffir limes. First off, you're not supposed to call the bumpy, profoundly fragrant, surprisingly oily citrus fruit by that name anymore, according to PC pendejos; instead, call them by their Thai name, makrut. More important, Issara uses the lime to magnificent heights: as a paste that goes in curries, as a sauce splashed on seafood platters, as a broth in the electric tom kha. I've yet to find a Thai restaurant in OC that uses this difficult lime so much; every dish touched by the kaffir—er, makrut—zings. Only in Huntington can a restaurant pull this off—and if you needed any further proof this ain't your grandpa's Orange County, there it is.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *