Thai dawns in Oroville
This family-run restaurant is the real deal
Thai food, which was largely unknown in the West 20 years ago, is now popular almost everywhere. Here in California, Thai cuisine migrated from San Francisco to Sacramento and is currently making its way north. Chico has two Thai restaurants, Chada Thai downtown and Grayatip Thai Cuisine on the north Esplanade.
Now Oroville can boast of a Thai restaurant, Sukhothai, which means “dawn of happiness.”
Sukhothai’s genesis occurred when Koui Pou Saechin visited Oroville with the idea of buying a house. When the real-estate agent learned that he was from Thailand, she commented, “I wish Oroville had a Thai restaurant.”
Soon after, Koui contacted his nephew, Jim Fong, and asked, “Doesn’t your wife Sunee want to open a Thai restaurant of her own?”
Fong replied, “Yes, it is her dream to have her own restaurant in America.”
The three arrived in Oroville in October 2002 and quickly found a location in a busy shopping center on Oro Dam Boulevard. They bought a stove and refrigerators, along with tables and other necessary items to outfit their new restaurant. Sukhothai opened in February of this year.
Sunee Phetkaew had her own restaurant in Thailand for more than 20 years. Since arriving in America a decade ago, she’s been a chef in several Bay Area restaurants, including Thai Delight in Berkeley.
Sukhothai is truly a family operation. Sunee is the chef. Her son-in-law, Ken Price, who’s also from Thailand and was second chef at Thai Bai in Oakland, serves as a waiter and second chef. Kim, Sunee’s daughter and Ken’s wife, waits tables and did the decorating (the restaurant is decorated with many items from Thailand, including pictures, musical instruments, tapestries and plants). And Koui prepares the plates with the garnishes and does other kitchen chores.
If you are new to Thai food, start with the Sukhothai Sampler. It’s a platter of appetizers that includes vegetable stuffed rolls, chicken satay, fried tofu, fish cakes and crispy vegetables. The sampler is served with cucumber salad, peanut sauce and sweet chili sauce. By the way, all sauces are made at the restaurant, not poured from a bottle.
If you prefer a salad instead of the appetizer, try the Sukhothai Salad. Sunee makes her salad with mint leaves, chili peppers, red onions, and grilled beef that is mixed in lime juice and Thai sauces. Thai sauces have flavors that are so refreshing you will want to know why you haven’t tried Thai cuisine before.
Sukhothai has more than 50 entrees. Three of my favorites are: The Crying Tiger, which is grilled beef rib-eye marinated in spicy garlic dressing and served with fresh vegetables; The Dancing Ladies, jumbo prawns stuffed with crabmeat; and spicy Pad Kraprao, a classic vegetable dish with choice of sautéed chicken, beef, pork or tofu.
I asked Ken which curry I should choose, green, red, yellow or panang. He suggested the Red Curry Chicken. Curry can be quite spicy, but you can request the amount of heat you would like. The chicken is cooked with coconut milk, bamboo shoots and sweet basil.
Rice is usually served with the dinners. Sukhothai offers both steamed jasmine rice and sticky rice as a side order. I suggest you forgo the rice and order pan-fried noodles. My choice was Pad Thai—fried rice noodles, prawns, egg, ground peanuts, onions and bean sprouts. On second thought, go ahead and order the rice, as it is great to sop up the sauces. You won’t want to waste a single drop.
And do order the Thai tea. I can’t describe the flavor; you have to experience it yourself. It’s available hot or iced.
For dessert try imported Thai coconut ice cream, made and frozen in Thailand. The ice cream contains small pieces of delicious jackfruit.
Sukhothai also offers 30 different lunch plates that include rice, salad and your choice of curries, meats, seafood or tofu. Prices range from $5.95 to $6.95. Dinner is à la carte and averages $30 to $50 for four people.