I recently ate at Lotus of Siam, a Las Vegas restaurant that no less an authority than Pulitzer Prize-winning LA Weekly food critic (and my personal god) Jonathan Gold deemed the best Thai restaurant in North America. He and the others who rave about this hole in the wall aren't wrong—the dishes electrified my tongue. The place has perfected the tried-and-true while offering items unfamiliar to even the average Thai eater. If you're ever in Vegas, go.
But the horrible gas prices probably mean you're traveling no farther than the Commerce Casino this summer, so treat yourself to a spectacular local Thai dive: SIAM TASTE OF ASIA. It's in the section of Santa Ana that bleeds into Little Saigon (the legendary Favori is a next-door neighbor), and the weirdness escalates from there. For one, the menu is very limited: While most Thai restaurants offer multiple curries, endless noodle dishes and usually break into the three digits in terms of items, Siam is happy with fewer than 20 entrées, all listed on the menu with large photos. Instead of indifferent service as so many Asian restaurants are unfortunately wont to practice, the owners are friendly and attentive. “I like to spoil my customers,” the kind lady who usually mans the small place once told me, as she offered me complimentary small bowls of searing chicken tom ya and coconut jelly—and she doesn't lie.
Although few in number, Siam's dishes elicit the same exhilarating sensation that Lotus of Siam provokes. The best dish isn't even technically Thai: a breaded sea bass fillet covered with chile peppers and green curry. The flavors of the sea bass, peppers and green curry stay separate, but work to simultaneous-yet-differing levels of sweetness, spice and savory, a feat nearly impossible to find in any cuisine, let alone fusion. The green curry is also available in a massive bowl swimming with veggies and the meat of your choice—still superb, but now overwhelmingly so.
Before you start on the entrées, order the fried tofu, Orange County's best. Instead of allowing the tofu to harden and create a stale, tasteless rectangular mush, this version is flash-fried so the outside is shatteringly crispy (and coated with chili—good touch), while the inside is as decadently chewy as a semi-melted Snickers. So many more things to rave about, but one big problem with this place: Every time I visit, I'm the only person there. I've never encountered such a desolate-yet-delicious place. Change that pronto, gentle readers.
Siam Taste of Asia, 3520 W. First St., Santa Ana, (714) 418-9678.