Spicing things up
Sophia’s serves up excellent Thai cuisine on Chico’s west side
Sophia’s Authentic Thai Cuisine305 Nord Ave.
Chico, CA 95926
Henri had just left Monday’s two-for-one burger night at the Oasis Bar and Grill—a favorite—the other evening and was enjoying the spring twilight in a state of post-prandial bliss when a sign for a new restaurant caught me by surprise. Sophia’s Authentic Thai Cuisine. I stopped in my tracks, or at least as best I could, considering the hideous condition of the brakes on my little Renault. Perhaps a nightcap? Mango and sticky rice? Instead, I made a mental note, with plans to return, then drove on—a mean man in a big truck waving very inappropriately as he passed me on the right, dust flying everywhere. Excusez-moi, Monsieur “Insured by Smith & Wesson"!
I returned the next day with Colette, and we had an absolutely divine lunch, agreeing that it was among the best Thai food we’d eaten.
Sophia’s, which just opened in late March in the old Paisan’s Pizza building, features food from throughout Thailand, where cooking is distinctly regionalized. The classic Pad Thai, for example, a staple on most Thai-restaurant menus in the U.S., is from central Thailand, where eggs are often used in cooking. Curry dishes, also common on menus in the States, are typically from southern Thailand, where the country’s Muslim population (10 percent) is concentrated. Southern Thai dishes also make use of other spices and ingredients typically found in Indian food.
Dishes from northern Thailand, on the other hand, often include more exotic sauces and foods, such as fermented shrimp paste, raw beef and deep-fried insect larvae and, in the northeast, “giant water bugs.” Note: At Sophia’s, all menu items are in Thai and translated into English, revealing neither larvae nor bugs of any kind. On the other hand, individual chilies are not identified, making completely possible the inclusion of the tiny, prik kee noo—translated as “mouse-shit chilies,” for their likeness to the droppings.
Sophia’s extensive menu (nearly 100 items) features curry, stir-fry, barbecue, noodle and seafood dishes—served with vegetables, seafood, beef, chicken or tofu—as well as appetizers, Thai tea and coffee, and desserts. Typical Thai herbs, spices and other flavorings—including lemongrass, turmeric, coriander, ginger, garlic, tamarind, coconut milk, peanuts, chilies and limes and kaffir-lime leaves—are included throughout.
All Sophia’s basic curries, stir-fries, and barbecue dishes are $7.95, while seafood entrees (prawns with cilantro and lemon grass, salmon in red curry) run $9.95-$11.95. Main dishes, except for the noodles and fried rice, include a generous helping of delicious Jasmine rice.
Sophia’s has two separate dining rooms separated by a short hallway, eight or so tables in one, six larger booths in the other. Both are tastefully decorated with Thai art. Soft Thai folk music was wafting through the restaurant as Colette and I sat down for lunch.
We started with egg rolls (four for $5.95), stuffed with corn, carrots and cabbage. They were crispy and delicious, especially when dipped in the light sweet-and-sour sauce.
Henri likes to put Thai restaurants to the test with their curry, and Colette and I debated among the red, green and yellow as we looked over the rest of the menu.
Finally, she decided on the chicken gaeng ped (red curry), and I ordered the tofu nong nang pad khing (stir-fried snow peas, green onions and sweet red bell peppers in a garlic sauce with chopped ginger). I asked our server to make it eight of 10 on the “spiciness” scale.
Both our lunches were excellent, the varied ingredients blending into a rich and pungent complexity. And the spiciness level? Perfect. In fact, I had to dab several times with my napkin at my perspiring temples—and my distinctly out-of-character ice-water-to-wine ratio was three glasses to one.