Monday, August 11, 2008

Thai Purple - Alhambra

I can't believe it's been a decade since I moved to Southern California. My move coincided with the opening of two places -- the J. Paul Getty Center and Museum and Thai Purple. Not that I'm putting them both in the same category. Just sayin' the two events happened around the same time, so they're linked in my memory.

This was before the movie theater opened across the street so there was little reason to notice the front of the restaurant if you drove along Garfield Avenue. Notice that sign on the far left corner? Pad thai Tuesdays for $3.99 all day.

Thai Purple - Alhambra 1

Anyway, so before the movie theater opened across the way, I found and always entered the restaurant from the back. I don't even remember who I was with when we first noticed the grand opening sign and decided to try it. But entering through the back always made me feel like I was in the "know." Remember that scene in Goodfellas, where Ray Liotta entered that club through the back, through the kitchen? Kinda like that. Except you don't have to grease any palms, unless you want to tip the free valet guys in the parking lot.

The back entrance faces the parking lot on 1st Street.

Thai Purple - Alhambra 2

Then you get to a storage area. There's Thai street scenes painted on the left wall. I don't know why because in all the years they've been open, this area was always cluttered. The fish tank holds one giant fish. We're heading toward that door on the left.

Thai Purple - Alhambra 3

And continue down this corridor toward that patch of light you see on the left.

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And into this space. Now, didn't that make you feel special?

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Such cute containers.

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Holding four different kinds of chilies.

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This is why I come here. They've got regular lunch specials which includes noodles but those don't come with a free drink. The special combo set for $5.99 includes a choice of soup or salad, various curries or stir-fries, a meat, a salad, and a drink.

Thai Purple - Alhambra 8

The Thai iced tea and coffee are generously sized too. The soup is just cabbage soup. I wish they'd give a small bowl of a Thai soup instead.

Thai Purple - Alhambra 9

Pad Thai. Mmm. It was particularly good that day. Lil' sis couldn't get enough and this dish reminded her of how long it's been since we've eaten Thai food. Fresh, soft, chewy noodles. Just the right amount of sauce, not too tart, not too sweet.

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This is the $5.99 combo set, which included the drink above and soup, and a yellow curry, barbecued chicken, and crispy pork cucumber salad. The curry was yummy. The chicken was standard. The crispy pork was perfectly fried. The cucumber salad had a light fish sauce dressing, sort of like how I make mine, but much better.

Thai Purple - Alhambra 11

On another visit with cousin Q, he ordered exactly what I got above. So I decided to try pad prick keeng with pork (Thai chili paste with green beans). I did not like this dish. The taste just didn't sit well with me. There was a weird dankness that I didn't like. The chicken wings were fried to a lovely crisp. The cucumber salad was just the crispy pork salad, minus the crispy pork. So I suggest ordering the crispy pork salad so you get both! :)

Thai Purple - Alhambra 12

On another visit with the oldest '87 and the older '88, I asked for salad instead of soup. It was a basic green salad with a light sweetened fish sauce dressing.

Thai Purple - Alhambra 13

We ordered pad kee mao (Thai drunken noodles). This had just the right amount of spice. The beef was a bit tough, but the noodles were fresh, soft, luscious.

Thai Purple - Alhambra 14

We also ordered the red curry, fried tofu, and crispy pork salad. The red curry was yummy. Actually, I've liked all their curries. The tofu was perfectly fried, crispy, and not greasy. Perfect for dipping into the sweet chili sauce in the center.

Thai Purple - Alhambra 15

I wanted to order the fried pompano fish but they were out that day so I settled for fried tilapia with the house special sauce for $6.95.

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Fried hard-crisp. The garlic coating was way too salty though. I thought the special sauce would be more of the sweet chili sauce but it was a very salty fish sauce. So the overall effect was too salty. Next time, I'm waiting until pompano fish is available and asking for the sweet chili sauce.

Thai Purple - Alhambra 17

Pre-blogging, I've enjoyed the beef salad and soups, which all come out in burning braziers.

The specials go until 3 p.m. every day. Dinner prices are slightly more expensive so I suggest going before then. I really like the combo sets because it allows me to eat multiple dishes instead of just a few.

Service though is incredibly spotty. Sit near the counter or else they won't notice you at all. It's one thing when the waitress doesn't check up on you, but on my last visit none of them even looked up so I could flag them down to bring our check. We waited. And waited. Finally, the oldest '87, on her way to the bathroom, stopped off at the counter to ask them to bring out our check. And so they brought a check to another table instead. So then we got up to the counter to pay, and even standing in front of the cashier, she never once looked up. After I had to speak up to get her attention, and got the bill, I had to again speak up so she'd notice me to take the receipt. Seriously!? When I'm standing right in front of her? When none of the three roving waitresses with a whopping three tables in the restaurant could be bothered to check up on us? I know there are napkins to fold, but did they really warrant that much attention?

Anyway, so yeah. I like the food and the specials are good. I'm just warning you that service on a good day will be OK, and on most days will frustrate you.

Parking in the lot during prime time is reserved for free valet service. If you want to enter through the back, you can park for free on the streets or in the parking structure on 1st Street. If you want to enter through the front, park across the street in the movie theater's lot and walk across.

Also, since there seems to be quite a bit of interest in the Summer Jubilee, I've updated that page with links of Alhambra restaurants, and restaurants within walking distance of the event. There's plenty of free parking so don't feel limited to only what's within a certain radius. Check out my Restaurants by City list for neighboring eats in Monterey Park, San Gabriel, San Marino, Pasadena, and South Pasadena.

April 22, 2009 Update:

The lunch specials now end at 3 p.m. From then to 5 p.m., there are noodle soup specials that include a free Thai iced coffee or tea. Chicken tom yum soup with wide rice noodles and Thai iced tea for $5.95. Such a great deal.

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Service is just a spotty as ever. They gave my cousin the wrong noodle for her soup, but when my cousin's baby cried, they tried to console her with stickers and crayons.

Other Thai restaurants:
Bhan Kanom Thai - Los Angeles (Thai Town)
Noodle World - Alhambra
Palms Thai Restaurant - Los Angeles (Hollywood)
Top Thai Restaurant - San Dimas

Thai Purple
27 N. Garfield Ave.
Alhambra, CA 91801
Closed Wednesdays
Sunday to Thursday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

1 year ago today, peach-stuffed doughnuts at The Donut Man - Glendora.


  1. There's so much about this restaurant that reminds me of Thai City in Duarte. The parking in the back, the entrance through some little hallway, the cute little chile bowls, the cabbage soup. But the menu is a bit different - less bento-like, and the service is quite good. Prices have gone up lately, as most places I've visited. Thanks the warning about service at Thai Purple!

  2. Geez, you'd think they'd give better service to someone that visits multiple times and brings different customers with her each time. And for them to be open 10 years? The food must be really good.

  3. Looks great - I'm not a huge fan of most Thai dishes, but that first combo set looks delicious. A little stingy with just two small scoops of rice?

  4. 5.99 is such a great deal for that combo! The pad thai looks delicious - it's one of my favorite dishes, as are the drunken noodles. I'll be in SoCal in a few weeks, and will visit a couple of the places you've blogged about!

    Thanks for visiting my blog - I just started it, so it's still in the works - but am having fun with it!

  5. I love your blog and have been reading it for a while now. I really enjoy all your reviews and cooking. Thank you!

  6. Thanks for leading us thru the back lane ... yes it feels special ;) The food looks like it's value for $ and this is the first time I 've see Thai food served on a Japanese-like bento. I still enjoy your review though I know I won't get to eat the food, heh

  7. Nikki,
    Service has to be pretty bad for me to comment. Otherwise, I'm pretty easy-going. I don't expect to be checked up on constantly, but it gets a little ridiculous when I'm standing right in front of them and they don't bother to look up.

    Not really good, just good. But there's not that many Thai restaurants in the area so little competition.

    It's not stingy when the combo also includes soup or salad and a large drink. The drink alone usually runs more than $2, so $4 for that bento box is a great deal in my opinion.

    Let me know which restaurants you visit. It's always nice to get feedback afterward.

    Thanks! I always appreciate your comments. :)

    Noob Cook,
    Ha! Yeah, sometimes it's weird for my international readers because they can't go to the places I post about. But at least you can see what the food looks like.

  8. "I did not like this dish. The taste just didn't sit well with me. There was a weird dankness that I didn't like."

    Have you identify what the culprit in that taste may be? I ask because there's a Thai restaurant near me (Palms Thai in Hollywood) that often serves a dipping sauce that has this dark, sorta smoky taste that I don't like. Can't quite put my finger on what the spice is... maybe star anise? Though I think that's more of a sweet licoricey taste (I hate licorice) and this is quite different, but kinda herbal. Hmm...

  9. Make it Spicy,
    Nope, never figured it out and I ate half of it trying to, even though I didn't like it at all. It definitely wasn't dark or smoky though. I would have liked that.

  10. Hi,

    I just started reading your blog a few days ago. I think it's one of the more fun blogs to read on food! I haven't tried Thai Purple yet but my best friend who has been living in the area for a while discouraged me from eating there. She recommended Thai Paradise instead. I've been eating there since I moved here in 2002. I haven't been disappointed yet. Everyone I've taken there liked it a lot. You should try it! Let me know how it compares to Thai Purple. Thanks for your blog.

  11. U Huynh,
    Thanks! I've heard good things about Thai Paradise, just haven't gotten around to trying it myself. I guess I should! I can't resist the deal on Thai Purple's lunch specials though. :P


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