A better Thai game

Lao-Thai Cafe

Good for: authentic homestyle Lao and Thai dishes
Notable dishes: curry puffs, Lao sausages, papaya salad

Lao-Thai Cafe

6840 65th St.
Sacramento, CA 95828

(916) 393-9445

Midtown is swimming with Thai restaurants these days, but they’re all somewhat Americanized. Delicious, but perhaps not the real deal. For authentic homestyle food, you owe it to yourself to find Lao-Thai Cafe in south Sacramento’s Little Saigon region.

Located near Vampire Penguin and Happy Day Spa, Lao-Thai Cafe took over the old Thai-Thai Express location. It opened about seven months with local legend Yee (no last name needed—or given, SN&R asked) in the kitchen. She used to prepare food from her house and developed a cult following.

The interior is clean and bright, but small. We saw only one waitress on our visits, but she’s fast and knowledgeable on ingredients. Take, for example, the menu’s two papaya salads ($7.95 each).

The Lao version has fermented crab and a stronger fish sauce component, making it very aromatic. The smell is memorable. The Thai version is tamer, with shrimp paste and carrots. Both were beautifully arranged, with finely shredded papaya and fresh bean sprouts.

Larb is a Thai restaurant regular, but here it is more Lao in execution. The finely chopped chicken ($7.95) or beef ($8.95) has plenty of rice powder, making it drier than other versions we’ve had. The flavor and quality are excellent.

Be sure to clarify how spicy you want food, though. This is the kind of place that has “American hot” (a.k.a. mild) and “Thai hot.”

Curry puffs and Lao sausages make for two very impressive appetizers. The sausages ($5.95) are made of fatty pork with generous amounts of lemongrass and galangal. They’re cooked on-site and have a lively snap to the skin and a hint of spice. The flavors are addictive paired with a sweet and spicy sauce.

Curry puffs ($5.95), which are listed only on the daily specials, come in veggie or chicken varieties. Very much like Indian samosas, they comprise a housemade lard pastry wrapped around chopped potatoes and yellow-curry vegetables. The puffs, which feature some of the flakiest pastry we’ve had anywhere, melt in the mouth. The waitress made sure to tell us that we could order platters of them for events.

There are several huge soups, including Thai boat noodles ($7.95) with pork rind and blood cubes. We went for the kow poon ($6.95), with handmade noodles, creamy curried chicken, bamboo and julienned vegetables. With its “medium” spice, it’s the best cold remedy around. The flavorful broth is packed with toothsome noodles and shredded meat.

On one visit, we got in just before the tables filled at 6:30 p.m. Almost every group included children. One of the kid favorites is the pineapple fried rice ($8.95). It’s almost nothing like versions we’ve had elsewhere. The rice is less oily, formed into a gorgeous dome, with barely cooked shrimp and moist shreds of chicken. The pineapple is minimal, making this dish less sweet than others, but with lots of big, toasted cashews and thin, flower-shaped carrot slices.

Another standout here is the pad eggplant ($7.95), a rich mixture of fried Asian eggplant with onions, peppers and sweet chili sauce. We got ours with ground beef tossed in, which made it a hearty plateful. Again, the flavors are well balanced and the quality top-notch.

Everything we tried was fantastic—expertly prepared, layered with flavor and generously portioned. When it’s busy, service can be slow, but get in early and order widely. It’s worth the trip.