The Cham-pion of Thai food
By Shane Cohn 07/12/2012
Thai Chinese Food
2337 N. Oxnard Blvd.
Just as Paris or New York represents the cross section of the world, I’m going to be the first to say that the food served in Thai Chinese Food restaurant is what makes this little Oxnard eatery the cross section of Ventura County.
All walks of life, from punkers to cops, athletes to artists, filed into the nondescript restaurant last Thursday night. But even more remarkable was that the restaurant’s owner, Cham (who, like Prince, needs no surname), knew them all. He knew what they’d order, asked about their families and in some cases, their last gigs, their graduations, their wives/husbands or even their last dates.
Because they keep coming back.
“We cook with heart,” says Cham, adding with a grin, “and people like it here because I’m cool.”
Cham, who operates the restaurant with his family, opened doors in 1992 using his mother’s recipes from Thailand. The food, he says, is Bangkok-style, which means the menu items are inspired from all regions of Thailand. With Bangkok being the melting pot of Thailand, Cham’s dishes are the melting pot of Thai cuisine. Acknowledging the allure of Chinese food, Cham added a few Chinese recipes to his repertoire.
Located in an unassuming marketplace along Oxnard Boulevard at Vineyard Avenue, the restaurant is certainly not known for its architecture and design, or even ambience for that matter, which could be why the restaurant hasn’t been reviewed in 20 years. Cham’s, as it is referred to by locals, is a low-key, word-of-mouth joint, which should give rise to local foodies.
Upon entering, customers order at the counter and then take their seats. There are 60 or so meals to choose from, ranging from only $6 to $9. That being so, my companion and I splurged. We began with the barbecue chicken sticks appetizer. The meat was tender and lightly charred with hints of turmeric and garlic. We devoured the little meats, a perfect whetting of the appetite. Up next were the four entrees from which we’d sample.
At Cham’s behest, we ordered the restaurant’s most popular dish, the garlic tofu. The tofu comes with sautéed carrots and broccoli, served on either rice or chow mien noodles, but we ordered a mix of rice and noodle. The pan-seared garlic tofu was bountifully flavored and actually crunchy, which was a treat, as it is often served in other restaurants with a mushy, wet texture. My companion said Cham’s tofu is the best he has ever had, and I’m going to stand by him on that.
Next up was the kang karee, or yellow curry. The potatoes, broccoli, carrots and rice that were simmered in a thick curry sauce blew our minds, and Cham sat nearby laughing as we battled each other for bites. Flashes of ginger and turmeric were apparent, but most apparent were the Eastern spices — which Cham said were family secrets — that had us salivating for more after we quickly finished the dish.
The final two dishes we shared were the pad kee mow, or drunken noodle, and the pineapple fried rice with shrimp. The pad kee mow is a spicy dish consisting of rice noodles lightly sautéed with basil, onion, peppers and garlic with choice of meat or tofu. A fan of spicy food, I announced to Cham that this was my favorite. He replied, smiling, that this dish is a favorite of all the drunks, hence the name. (It should be noted that I was drinking Thai iced tea, which was phenomenal as well.) The pineapple fried rice was the most simplest of all the plates we ordered. But what it lacked in spices was made up for by the shrimp’s succulence.
We finished the night with deep-fried bananas served in a won ton wrapper with powdered sugar. It’s an original recipe created by Cham’s sister, and seriously, try this special treat. I don’t have a sweet tooth, but I haven’t stopped thinking about this dessert since.
In touch with the times, Cham can prepare any dish gluten-free or vegan, and encourages his customers to customize their orders in whatever fashion they desire. What’s best is, he’ll remember it the next time you come in.
Says Cham, “It’s like having your own live-in cook.
Thai Chinese Food is open 7 days a week, 11 a.m.-10 p.m.