According to the Guinness Book of World Records, Bangkok has the longest official city name in the world: Krungthep Mahanakhon Amorn Rattanakosin Mahintara Yudthaya Mahadilok Pohp Noparat Rajathanee Bureerom Udomrajniwes Mahasatarn Amorn Pimarn Avaltarnsatit Sakatattiya Visanukram Prasit. This is awesome because 1) cities can have official names that are apparently unrelated to what we actually call them and 2) Bangkok’s name roughly translates to “City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Vishvakarman at Indra’s behest.” And I’m just from Miami.
That said, food found in the Thai “city of angels” has navigated its way into American hearts. We are commonly overcome with what I’m going to call Thai Food Craving. I’ve written columns on Los Angeles’s two essential Thai spots—Renu Nakorn and Jitlada—both of which are around 40 minutes from campus. While both are worth a trip once or twice a semester, Thai Food Craving sets in more often than that, and we tend to be busy because of, you know, homework and stuff. And while those two spots are essentially home of gods incarnate, they tend to serve Thai food that can overwhelm the senses—I’m thinking of Jitlada’s catfish curry bathed in tea leaves and spices and Renu Nakorn’s steak tartare lavished in chili and basil. At its heart, Thai Food Craving is not about those things; it’s really all about the simple dishes we used to order at the local, Americanized Thai spot: pad thai, satay, mee grob, and so on.
So how should we satisfy that need in Claremont? There are four easily accessible Thai spots from campus: Bua Thai, Sanamluang, Thai Family, and Mix Bowl. If we rank Thai Food Craving Satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10 (with 1 being low and 10 being high), I would roughly assign Bua Thai a 5, Sanamluang a 7, and Thai Family a 7.5. Mix Bowl is sort of a wild card, not in that its quality is difficult to gauge—we can safely refer to it with descriptors like awful, unsatisfactory, dreadful, and so on—but because its food tends to be eaten out of a takeout box in a mental state that’s best not discussed in a formal journalistic setting. Mix Bowl has its own particular niche in 5C life, and I’m not the person who should be questioning that.
Bua is relatively cheap for Claremont, and the kee mao—flat rice noodles stir fried with basil, onions, and chili—can be good, with an emphasis on the “can be.” Bua can also be decidedly mediocre, to the point where you feel a little guilty—not Mix Bowl guilty, but still guilty—about taking Thai food shortcuts.
Sanamluang tends to be more interesting than good. It has multiple locations in L.A., first earning some fame in Thai Town as a hotshot pad see ew noodle spot for Hollywood clubbers at 4 a.m. (who may have also been in the aforementioned mental state). The cooks at the Pomona location still make above-average noodles, but some menu items can be relatively bland, so it takes some luck to get a good meal. The good news is that if you are lucky, the food can be a step above everything else in the Inland Empire. Moreover, almost every dish is in the $6 range, which definitely works in the restaurant’s favor.
Thai Family comes out on top, because it’s the quintessential American-Thai spot. You’ll recognize everything on the menu, and the kee mao is simply called “Spicy Noodle.” But a trip this weekend reminded me that it’s also the best spot for a Thai meal that will leave you perfectly happy, and in the end, that’s all we really need.
Bua Thai: 450 W. 1st St. Claremont, CA 91711. (909) 626-6666.
Sanamluang Café: 1648 Indian Hill Blvd. Pomona, CA 91767. (909) 621-0904.
Thai Family: 130 S. Mountain Ave. Upland, CA 91785. (909) 920-3640.