It’s all too easy to stick to your tried-and-true Thai favorites: a blistering bowl of chile-spiked curry, a skein of pad Thai showered with crushed peanuts, or a salad that traverses sweet, sour, salty, and bitter. Next time, try dipping into a comforting Thai soup. You’ll find enough steamy, satisfying varieties to carry you through winter.
The venerable Thai Nakorn mostly keeps to the classics—a good reason to consider one of its communal pots of soup, such as the tom yum kha gai (chicken in a spicy coconut milk broth) or the tom yum talay (shellfish and seafood in a clear, restorative broth). Feeling more adventurous? Dig into the house specialties and you’ll find another impressive soup of whole fried fish in a light, gently sour broth.
Dishes at Vientiane Thai Laos are from the blurry culinary border between Laos and Thailand. Khao poon is a staple of Lao cooking, a noodle soup with coconut milk and curry. But the restaurant is renowned for its whole fried catfish. So consider the gang thy pa, a filet of fried catfish submerged in a funky broth of fish sauce, chiles, and tamarind sauce. It’s tart, acidic, earthy, and bewildering in all the right ways.
Thai soups even have taken hold in the trendy kitchens of chef Jason Quinn. His Noodle Tramp at Santa Ana’s 4th Street Market specializes in khao soi, a curried noodle soup influenced in part by the cuisine of Myanmar. It’s topped with a nest of crunchy fried egg noodles, peanuts, shallots, a wedge of lime, pickled cabbage, and either Wagyu beef, chicken, or vegetables. Unlike most dishes from Quinn’s kitchen, it’s always customizable.
Even the heartiest bowl of soup doesn’t quite make a meal. Thai Nakorn’s
barbecue chicken is the ideal add-on, either a half or whole bird flavored
with just the essence of Thai spices and charred on the grill until it’s adorned
with tiger-like stripes. A small cup of Thai sweet chile sauce is served alongside.
12532 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, 714-583-8938
;11951 Beach Blvd., Stanton, 714-799-2031
Vientiane Thai Laos
10262 Westminster Ave., Garden Grove, 714-530-7523
201 E. Fourth St.Santa Ana