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Food

Coronavirus cancels final celebration as Royal Thai Cuisine in Newport Beach closes

Royal Thai Cuisine in Newport Beach
After 36 years, Royal Thai Cuisine in Newport Beach is closing down. The last in a chain of family-run restaurants started in 1978, the location was known for a 1-ton statue stolen in 1992 but later recovered.
(Don Leach / Times Community News)

Orange County diners and fans of Newport Beach’s Royal Thai Cuisine are saddened by the end of an era, and a dynasty, as owners of the family-operated business recently announced the restaurant’s closure after nearly four decades.

Mimi Dang, daughter of owner Sam Tilakamonkul, a.k.a. Sam Tila, confirmed the news last week. Tila opened the first Royal Thai Cuisine location with seven brothers in the late 1970s and served as executive chef using their mother’s home recipes.

“There were plans to celebrate this [occasion] with our friends and family who have helped us along the way. But then COVID-19 hit,” Dang said Friday by email. “As we socially distanced, we quietly and tearfully turned in our keys and reflected on the memories.”

Shortly after arriving to the Los Angeles area from their native Thailand, the Tila brothers first opened Bangkok Market, thought to be L.A.'s first Thai wholesale grocery store, on Melrose Avenue in 1972.

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Royal Thai Cuisine in Newport Beach
Royal Thai Cuisine, a Newport Beach landmark, has closed after 36 years in business.
(Don Leach / Times Community News)

Known for once hard-to-find items, such as curry paste, kefir lime leaves, forbidden rice and lemongrass, the market closed in November.

The first Royal Thai Cuisine restaurant opened on Pico Boulevard in L.A. in 1978. In the years that followed, family members opened numerous locations in Laguna and Manhattan beaches, Carlsbad, La Jolla and San Diego (with a satellite kitchen on the UC San Diego campus).

The Newport Beach restaurant, opened in 1984, was the last Royal Thai Cuisine to be owned and operated by the Tilakamonkul family.

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It made headlines in 1992 when a 6-foot tall, 1-ton teak elephant statue was stolen despite the chains that anchored it to the brick pavement outside the restaurant entrance. A 22-year-old man was later arrested after photos of him posing with the statue surfaced, and the pachyderm — missing one tusk — was returned.

Dang said her father became a community figure, sponsoring philanthropic events and being recognized by the Southern California Restaurant Writers Assn. as a Gold Award winner many times over for the restaurant’s cuisine and signature cocktails.

In 2019, Royal Thai Cuisine was voted “Best Thai Food” as part of the L.A. Times’ Best of Times O.C. contest.

Dang thanked the loyal patrons of the restaurant and the many family members who played a role in the success of the establishment over the years.

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“We can’t close without thanking you, the people who have supported Royal Thai Cuisine the past four decades, as well as the entire Tilakamonkul family for all their hard work and dedication to the family business,” she wrote. “We wish you much success on your next adventure.”


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