BY JOHN FARRELL
Several of the first Thai restaurants in Southern California took root in Long Beach before Thai cuisine was fashionable. Now there are more than a dozen restaurants offering the once exotic tastes of lemongrass, coconut milk and lotus root.
One of the pioneers of the Thai restaurant world was on Long Beach Boulevard, a place with a strange name, Minkquan. Eighteen years ago the Emarom family opened its restaurant on the site of another Thai restaurant. The home cooking style of the Emaroms, Moly and Steve, and perhaps a growing knowledge of Thai cooking, made Minkquan a success.
In 2000 it moved northeast to Anaheim Street, next to that Long Beach shrine Joe Jost's and put up a sign that says Mink Quan, although the owner told me that spelling was incorrect. Since then, the restaurant has thrived. See for yourself any Friday night when its small waiting area is packed.
"Minkquan" is a word of blessing and good wishes in Thai, meaning something a little better than "welcome," said manager Vina Lek, Steve and Moly's daughter.
"When my family was going to open our restaurant we didn't know what to call it," Lek said one night after closing time.
She not only manages the busy place but also helps out in the kitchen. "My mom had a dream, and the name `Minkquan' came to her, and that is what it was called."
Minkquan has a large regular clientele. According to Lek, one popular selection is the Spicy Seafood Soup ($11.95), one of only two items on the menu that costs more than $10. "It has catfish and shrimp and scallops and squid, flavored with lemongrass and also lime juice," Lek said. "It is very spicy hot."
The soup isn't the only thing that can be very spicy hot at Minkquan. The waitresses will ask how hot you want your dishes to be, and they can be just this side of fiery. The Beef Salad Thai Style ($7.75), a delightful combination of greens, peppers, onions and dried beef in a vinegary dressing, is refreshing and just salty enough. Ordered spicy, it has a fine chile bite in the back of the mouth.
"Lots of restaurants use jalapeño peppers in their dishes," Lek explained. "But ours are hotter because we use fresh Thai chiles, which are smaller and hotter."
One of the restaurant's specialties is Fried Salted Beef ($7.75), a dish that takes a lot of preparation. It starts with dried salted beef, which is marinated for two hours in a special sauce. It is then baked for a while to dry it out some. The beef is then refrigerated overnight. It is fried with Thai vegetables just before it is served and is rich with beef flavor and a dark finish.
Another favorite is the Spicy Chicken-Bamboo Shoot and Coconut Cream ($7.75), a delicious curry-like dish, with a rich and creamy broth, chicken and crispy bamboo shoots, a meal in itself eaten with steamed rice. This is one of the dishes that Lek makes when she is working in the kitchen with her parents.
The Chicken Curry With Coconut Cream ($7.75), is also great.
The Fried Pork With Pepper-Garlic ($7.50), has a heavy hit of garlic and is plenty spicy, with a nice meaty taste. Thai food is made to be eaten with rice, and this pork is great a bite at a time with rice.
Try the Chinese Sausage-Bamboo Shoot Black Mushroom ($7.25). If you haven't had Chinese sausage before, you'll find it familiar, with slightly different spices and a dry, chewy consistency.
Pad Thai Noodles ($6.95) are a staple of Thai food: everyone seems to love the sweet and spicy, chewy noodles dressed with bean sprouts, peanuts and shrimp. Another favorite is Larb Beef, ground beef with mint leaves and lime juice, another pungent taste. There are many other great choices (89 numbered items in all), including Bean Curd and Ground Pork Soup ($7.50), and Tomato Beef Chow Mein ($6.95), one of many Chinese-style dishes on the menu.
One caution: parking is at a premium. The Joe Jost's lot to the west is vigilantly patrolled, as is the lot to the east for the burger stand. Parking for Minkquan is behind the restaurant, so be sure to park only there.
Minkquan is a great place to take a family, or a great place for a quiet lunch for two, and it is a Long Beach tradition as well.
John Farrell is a Long Beach freelance writer.
The Thrifty Gourmet reviews restaurants at which you can find exceptionally good food at mostly $10 or less for dinner.
>Where: 2821 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach; (562) 439-3008; entire menu served 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday
>Atmosphere: noisy and busy
>Smoking section: no
>Wheelchair accessible: dining room and restrooms
>Noise level: low roar
>Credit cards: no