What to eat at Nimmarn Thai, Costa Mesa

Photo Dec 02, 3 05 49 PMBeef gra pow “Thai style” at Nimmarn (photo by Brad A. Johnson)

To unlock the secret to this new Thai restaurant, you’ll need a key. And that key is the essential phrase “Thai style.”

The first time I dine at Nimmarn Thai, I order the beef kra-pow, which has one of those little red chilies next to its name on the menu, signifying that this is one of the spicier offerings. Kra-pow is a classic dish served at just about every Thai restaurant in California, a stir-fry of peppers, onions, basil and meat. And it is usually at least somewhat spicy. But when my dish arrives, there is no discernible heat whatsoever. It’s filled with sweet bell peppers, and I’m disillusioned.

But I’m in the neighborhood again a few days later and decide to give this place another try. I order the beef kra-pow again, only this time I ask the waiter if the kitchen can make it spicy – but not merely spicy. I want it “Thai spicy.”

“OK,” says the waiter, looking me over suspiciously. “Do you just want it hot? Or do you want it authentic Thai style?” he asks.

“What’s the difference?” I ask.

“‘Thai spicy’ is really spicy,” he says. “But ‘Thai style’ is even spicier, with a different grind of meat, more like ground meat, the way Thai people like it.”

“That sounds perfect,” I say. And when the dish arrives, the bell peppers have been replaced with jalapenos and birds-eye chilies, along with a flurry of red chili specks that completely coat the finely chopped beef. It is the most authentic version of kra-pow I’ve found in Orange County, and it is awesome.

Ask for the papaya salad “Thai style,” too, and you’ll receive a beautifully authentic salad of shredded green papaya that is cold and crisp while at the same time delivering a shocking blast of radioactive heat. Ask for any of the curries to be served “Thai style,” and you’ll begin to understand the enormous depth and intricately layered flavors of Thai curry. But only if you say the magic words.

Nimmarn is an attractive but unassuming little restaurant that replaced Ramen Jinya. There’s still no sign out front, just a small temporary banner that’s hard to see from the street.

 This story appeared in the OC Register. Want more? You can always buy a Day Pass — cheaper than a cup of coffee — for 24-hour access to the entire OC Register archive. Or you can be cheap and lazy and wait for a week, at which point everything online is free. I also invite you to follow me and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter. 

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