Sometimes, our culture’s current fetishization to try the most “authentic” ethnic food available hits hilarious detours, and that’s what happened with my repeated visits at Thai Cuisine Express. We’re long past the age of Thai food as exotic, which means I’m usually not reviewing Thai unless it has regional specialties. And that’s what initially drew me to this cluttered spot in a tired Buena Park strip mall: On the badly faded menu posted outside, I saw a dish I had never heard of, kai jiew moo saap. Egg with pork—what the hell could that be?
But every time I’d visit the restaurant, I’d get sidetracked by its other, great offerings. Thai Cuisine Express is like Janus, looking to the past and future of Thai food in America. It stacks its lunch menu with specials that draw in office drones and working-class guys to this curious stretch of OC, culturally more La Mirada, Artesia and Cerritos than Buena Park, more 91 freeway than anything else. The pad Thai is fine, the curries better, the fried fish nuggets with mint leaf perfect. But Thai Cuisine Express specializes in seafood dishes for Thais: giant fillets simmered in ginger, funky boat noodle soup, and soft-shell crab fried as good as anything from the Chesapeake Bay. A whole trout garnished with apple relish? Spectacular.
I visited about half a dozen times, making segues into the crisp beef jerky, the fiery papaya salad and the awesome dessert called “jewel dice,” which is really the best Jell-O you’ll ever taste drowned in coconut milk. But that kai jiew moo saap called to me—what was it? Why was it so relatively affordable? Finally, I took the plunge. Visions of an entrée worthy of Jonathan Gold danced in my mind. When the waitress gave me a strange look after I requested it, I got even more excited.
The kai jiew moo saap finally came: It was just an omelet made of ham, served over rice. And . . . that was it. Disappointed? Maybe. Delicious? Damn straight. Gracias, my fetishization tendencies; I just found a great Thai dive.
Thai Cuisine Express, 6098 Orangethorpe Ave., Buena Park, (714) 522-1323.