419 E. Port Hueneme Road.
On the corner of Ventura and Port Hueneme roads, just steps from the beach park and in the same enclave as 2014 “Best Of” winner Jimi’s Tattoo, you’ll find a friendly and flavorful place to satisfy your cravings for Thai. That it makes a mean barbecue is an added bonus.
This wasn’t always the case. While Thai Village has been around for close to five years, it was a fairly nondescript, somewhat cluttered place that served mediocre Thai at best. But new management (the original owners returned to Thailand earlier this year) seems to have reinvigorated the restaurant. A brass goddess and khim (a hammered dulcimer from Cambodia) greet customers at the entrance before they are ushered into the clean, bright and open dining room with colorful woven wall hangings and gold embroidered tapestries. The custom lighting and woven placemats are small but effective touches that definitely class up the place a bit — and distract from the large, murky aquarium.
Beef Panang Curry
Thai Village’s menu is several pages long — if you’re of a mind to browse, you’ll need some time before ordering. In addition to the usual Thai standards — panang, massaman, red, green and yellow curry; pineapple fried rice; pad thai; larb (minced meat salad) — there are a few surprises. The restaurant offers several noodle soups if you’re feeling pho-ish, roast duck (with curry, basil and chili, or in fried rice or soup), Siamese clams, grilled pork and beef ribs and Thai-style barbecue with your choice of meat. This last dish, I was told, is a recipe straight from the chef’s own village in Thailand. It seems many Thai food restaurants have also started offering some Chinese and Japanese options. Thai Village follows suit, with teriyaki, tempura, chow mein and kung pao chicken. My interest was piqued by the dessert menu, which included fried bananas; maybe next time.
The chicken sate we had for our appetizer was very good: The flavor went all the way through, and the meat was tender and not even a little dry. I loved the peanut sauce — a pra ram dish is not currently on the menu but would make a nice addition. Even at medium spiciness the tom yum soup had enough heat to make my lips tingle (or perhaps it was biting into that wee chili), and the fresh lemongrass, mushrooms and tomatoes maintained their texture and flavor. Our entrees were equally delicious. Thai Village’s pad thai and panang curry weren’t necessarily the most sublime versions I’ve had, but both were quite tasty. The standout for me was the Thai barbecued pork — pieces of pork marinated and grilled and served with the “house special barbecue sauce” (a fish sauce-based mix with chilis). Yes, the strips were a little fatty, but the seasoning was fantastic and we found ourselves nibbling on the succulent morsels even after we asked for the check.
Thai barbecued pork
There were a few disappointments. Thai eggplant with basil leaves is one of my all-time Thai favorites, and while I can appreciate a light hand to maintain the vegetables’ integrity, the eggplant was woefully undercooked. The grilled shrimp was just plain unacceptable: It came to the table cold, and was rubbery and tasted a bit off. I would think twice before ordering another seafood item here. The service was friendly, but not especially fast. It was a long time between courses, and we waited close to 30 minutes for the check (not an exaggeration — I timed it). If you’ve got someplace to be after dinner, this may not be the restaurant for you.
You’re also out of luck if you’re craving a cocktail (Tipps Thai has a real advantage in this department), but Thai Village’s beer offerings impressively include most of the Asian heavy hitters: Singha, Tsing Tao, Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo, in small and large sizes. And of course, there’s always the Thai iced coffee and tea standbys. Locals should take advantage of the free delivery within a three-mile radius, the “All Day Specials” (which include rice, egg roll, and salad) and, with a nod toward the neighboring naval base, the military discount.
With appetizers that run up to $15 and seafood dishes close to $20, Thai Village isn’t the cheapest in the area. Neither are the portions particularly large. But the ingredients are fresh, their basics are solid and their not-so-common specialties (like that delectable barbecue) keep it interesting. When you’re in Port Hueneme and the coconut curry craving hits, it’s worth wandering in.