This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

This column celebrates the best of Orange County cuisine, so I won't burden you gentle readers with my past month of terrible Thai restaurants in the quest for a good one. Instead, let me regale ustedes with the best Siamese restaurant outside Anaheim's Thai Corner: BANGKOK TASTE in Santa Ana, which charms from the moment you sit down. On the table are placemats with gorgeous pictures of uniquely Thai fruits (star apple, rambutan, sala, etc.), along with descriptions of their taste and which Thai province specializes in their harvest. Treacly Thai pop sighs softly on the speakers. The bubbly owner stops by to hand you a menu. If you've visited before, she cracks, “Long time, no see!”—even if you stopped by just the other day. Trust me: This will happen—the quips and the consecutive trips.

Bangkok Taste features all the Thai dishes that are as assimilated into the Southern Californian diet as breakfast burritos—pad Thai, tom ka-gai, curries, papaya salad—but ignore those choices, even though they're better than the fare at your lunchtime standby (the wontons, for instance, get packed with meat instead of the usual pea-sized beef found at so many places). The restaurant specializes in items rare to Orange County Thai restaurants, from Isaan-style spicy plates to the Muslim-influenced cuisine of Southern Thailand. Take the khao soy, a yellow curry broth steaming with beef and egg noodles, a web of fried wheat noodles on top. On the side are green onions, pickled cabbage and limes; squeeze out the lime juice and throw in the veggies. This soup braces, singes and warms like nothing since pho-but better. Nam sod khao tod is really just a glorified larb, but the combination of sour sausage and crispy rice nevertheless impresses. Even tastier is the crispy green mussel omelet-Southeast Asia via a Route 66 diner.

And don't get thrown off by the mundanely named crispy chicken wings with mint leaves. Deep-fried, slathered in a sticky red curry sauce that's more sweet than spicy, and mixed with fried mint, these are the best chicken wings in Orange County. Ever had fried mint? Imagine the herb's freshness condensed into one crunchy, fragrant bite-heaven. Whatever you order, pray the dessert special for the day is roti, the subcontinental flatbread now fried and slathered with frosting worthy of Entenmann's.

BANGKOK TASTE, 2737 N. GRAND AVE., SANTA ANA, (714) 532-2216.

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