Thai restaurants pop up around the Inland Empire these days like Internet smears against Barack Obama—a rare few are amazing, many are mediocre, and the majority just plain awful (the Thai restaurants, not the smears). Many of these restaurants fail because they attempt a cheesy Chinese/Thai-fusion which ends up doing a disservice to both cuisines. Others suffer from a slapped-together-on-the-crest-of-a-wave feeling, trying to cash in on the fact that Thai food has gone so mainstream.
Refreshingly, Best Thai Cuisine in Riverside commits no such egregious error. It serves up high-quality and very authentic Thai food in an enjoyable and relaxed setting.
And that relaxing setting happens to be quite unusual—a tad chill and a bit funky, with a dose of Thai television thrown in for good measure. As I walk in a Thai noodle company asks me to taste Nirvana from the boob-tube, which sounds like fun to me. Even the menus have a bit of a tattered, fringy funk to them, and there’s nothing better than bohemian menus. I also love Thai iced tea with boba, so it must be a great omen that I’m immediately struck by how exceptional the tea is here—the whipped cream and shaved ice chunks insinuate that the refreshments live up to the name.
While I wait for my Thai egg rolls to arrive, I’m also struck by the amazing service going down at Best Thai on a Saturday night. As the dinner rush crowd began to filter in—and a pretty impressive one considering Best Thai’s location in the industrial Eastside area of Riverside—the staff continued to buzz about the place, always carrying seemingly unforced smiles on their faces. Here was the embodiment of the cliché, “keeping it real.”
Which I wasn’t exactly doing by ordering egg rolls in a Thai joint—but damn it, I like egg rolls no matter their allegiances. Besides, these were Thai egg rolls—light-fried, steaming, crunchy and teeming with crisp vegetables inside. As far as egg rolls go, these peppery things were about as far removed from the ordinary egg roll as Perris (CA) to its more famous homonym. Other options for a first course include the fish cakes appetizer, as well as an amazing Larb salad—a salad that’s all cilantro, lime and green onions. Good for the dieting.
Of course, there are myriad possibilities for your entrée at Best Thai, but I made the rather pedestrian choice of the red curry with tofu, on the dubious idea that one can judge a Thai place by the quality of its curry. Crazy but . . . bingo! The curry is beyond outstanding, bursting with flavor, hints of a million things. But be warned, with the jalapeño peppers mixed in this becomes a bad-mambo-jambo curry for adventurous types—a take no prisoners explosion of taste. In other words hot, supremely hot, but sublimely tasty. And much the same for Best Thai in general, for while the title is a rather sensationalist claim, they do their damndest to live up to it.
Best Thai Cuisine, 1735 Spruce Street, Riverside, (951) 682-4256, MC, V