¡Ask a Comida Critic! Which Thai Restaurants are Authentic Thai, and Which are Americanized?

From my cousin Plas:

We love that Thai place (Win Thai). Do you consider that "American Thai" or "good Thai."

Ah, Win Thai Cuisine in Anaheim: across the street from Norms, behind a car wash, in the Thai Corner section of Anacrime--and the first restaurant I ever reviewed. The place sells its pineapple fried rice, oil-slicked pad Thais and other Americanized renditions, but its primary audience remains Thai families and Muslims drawn in by the fact its cuisine is halal. Still a great place for Thai food, and it sells one of my ultimate comfort foods: white rice, yellow curry and bamboo shoots with beef--spectacular.

But American Thai versus "authentic" Thai? It's not that difficult a question to answer.

My very loose rule for an "authentic" Thai restaurant is simple: If it offers green papaya salad, it's "authentically" Thai. Win Thai offers a great version, pungent and sour and crispy and spicy. Bangkok Taste's version is so chili-laden you can pour the juice on asphalt and watch tar turn into steam. And perhaps the county's greatest rendition is at Thai Nakorn--but I'll let Edwin rave about it.

A Thai restaurant that doesn't carry papaya salad? Cha Thai in Orange, a warhorse of a restaurant that STILL has the review I did of them nearly a decade ago taped to their front window. It's almost bleached yellow now due to prolonged sun exposure, but the restaurant has been remodeled and looks as fresh as ever. The food is a classic of what I'd call Thai-American: pad Thai noodles as orange as a Broncos jersey, slicked with too much peanut oil; curries more sweet than spicy; and too many fried rice dishes. The multihued flavors of Thai food get turned down to 7, and not that many Thais eat there, but who cares when that spider's web of noodles sits before you, a quartet of spice at your side?

Location Info

Cha Thai

1520 W. Chapman Ave., Orange, CA

Category: Restaurant

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