The Phoenix
2148 Saviers Road
Oxnard
240-2462
$2.95-$12.49

Trying to find good Thai food in Ventura County is quite the endeavor. While Mexican and sushi bars abound, Thai food simply hasn’t caught on here as much. In light of that, though, when one comes across this rare find, you have to spread the good word. And so it is with The Phoenix.

Nestled in a small, Spanish-style strip mall along Saviers Road, it comes as a surprise to find this unique little place. Amongst other businesses, including a dentist, an auto insurance dealer and a meat market, a Thai food restaurant seems odd; but strangely enough, it fits in just fine. Upon first appearance, it would seem like a fast-food place — order and go — with numerous pictures of various Thai dishes on the storefront window. Once inside, though, it dawns on you, “This place has got character. Why don’t we stay awhile?”

The Phoenix is a small restaurant with around seven tables to choose from on the inside; but on a nice day, it has a quaint patio with a number of tables that really opens up the whole place. On every table are a variety of pictures of Thai dishes, similar to the pictures on the window. Mirrors on two of the walls give the appearance that the restaurant is much bigger than it is. But the most memorable pieces of Thai culture are the statues on the shelves behind the bar.

My favorite — the golden bejeweled reindeer.

For lunch, the restaurant filled quickly with people who were greeted with kind words, as if they had been regulars for years. Conversations were lively and the ’80s pop music playing in the background kept the atmosphere fun. The server greeted us with water and menus. Thankfully, nothing was off limits for lunch — all dishes cost less than $8. So we indulged and ordered a bowl of seafood noodle soup, the pad kee mow lunch special, which comes with a choice of soup or salad, and the whitefish cha cha daily special, which comes with a choice of rice, soup or salad and an egg roll.

(I think my companion ordered that dish just because of its especially fun name.)

First up — the seafood noodle soup: thin rice noodles immersed in a clear, but rich, warm broth with bean sprouts, roasted garlic, cilantro, shrimp, mussels, imitation crab meat, squid and fish balls. If you are the kind of person who loves interesting textures, this soup has it all. From the tender shrimp to the chewy mussels to the squid (that looks like a marshmallow wrapped up in a fish net) to the fish balls, it is a real freak show for your taste buds, and I mean that in the nicest of ways. While it was one of the most unusual dishes I have had in a while, I am ready for another bowl. One downfall — it wasn’t spicy enough for my companion and me. We prefer to eat with sweat dripping down our noses. For this effect, we added a heaping spoonful of spices the server gave us as one of the four condiments served on the side with every meal. Feverish temperature: check!

For the main course, I chose the pad kee mow, which consists of flat rice noodles with chili, basil, bell pepper, bean sprouts, onions and a choice of meat — I chose the pork. My companion chose the whitefish cha cha, crispy fish fillets topped with special red curry sauce and coconut milk.

The pad kee mow was good enough. Typically, eastern noodle dishes are fairly oily, and this one was no different. I ate the pork, which was tender, but the portion was too small. The noodles overwhelmed the dish, so if you are into noodles, you won’t be disappointed. There was also plenty of green bell pepper to go around.

For the cha cha, the whitefish filets were flaky, though the sauce took the crunch right out of the crust. The curry sauce was earthy with just a hint of sweetness coming through the coconut milk. My companion chose the fried rice, which apparently was pretty good since it was gone before I could try a bite. The egg roll, though small in size, was the perfect complement to the meal.

Totally stuffed, I still had a decent amount of food on my plate, while my companion cleaned his. For next time, though, I will probably choose another of one of the soups as there are many on the menu — all for $6 each. The soups are huge and one bowl is enough for a meal. My companion said he would be game to try any of the other dishes, and at such low prices, you can’t go wrong.

For authentic, filling, flavorful Thai cuisine, give this place a shot. If not for the food, enjoy a glass of wine on the patio some enchanted evening.   

michael@vcreporter.com