A steady Thai burn

Siam Restaurant

5100 Franklin Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95820

(916) 452-8382

Siam Restaurant was once the favored haunt of Tom Hayes, the state’s former treasurer, auditor general and director of the department of finance. Tom knew the owner, and had spent lots of time in Southeast Asia, both in war and as an adviser to what were, several decades ago, emerging economies. Thus, if anyone can make an informed judgment as to the quality of a Sacramento Thai restaurant, it would be someone who has eaten a fair amount of meals in Thailand where the “Thai hot” spiciness level is the norm, not a dare to American diners.

Double dates with Tom and his wife Mary were the introduction to Siam, long years ago. And although Tom’s pal has returned to Chiang Mai, Thailand, the caliber of the cuisine is still worthy of exploration. It’s nice to renew the acquaintance, and it’s particularly heartening seeing that the bulk of the patrons here are of Thai descent.

Siam exists as an oasis in a somewhat forlorn stretch of Franklin Boulevard. Across the street is the bank-owned Water Tech Systems company. Parking is iffy. But all that pales once inside. The mustard-walled interior is well-lit and surprisingly spacious, dominated by a wall-length mural depicting soldiers, a palace and refreshing gardens in its different panels. To the right of the dark wood, canopied register—looking a little like a life-size spirit house—are two wooden maidens with palms pressed together greeting customers with a silent “wai.”

It could take many months to work through Siam’s lengthy menu. Maybe that was part of Tom’s attraction—he’s keen for a good challenge. Dinner is served all day, so the greater adventure is to skip the lunch specials despite a very reasonable $6.95 price tag that includes an entree, salad and a mound of Jasmine rice. There’s red, green, yellow and panang curry, pad Thai—of course—drunken noodles and, another 14 stir-fry options with tofu, chicken, pork, beef and eggplant. There are also big bowls of chicken and beef noodle soups, which are essentially pho. Again, at $6.95, a reasonable and filling entree.

If sticking to the lunch menu, the spicy rice with squid is monstrously portioned, flavored with a steady Thai burn that leaves lips and tongue tingling (that would be “medium-hot”). Chunks of red and green bell pepper and onion slices are buried throughout. Again, a dish that can easily be split. Salads are one of the things the Thai do best: fresh, minty with combinations of hot and cold flavors. The best on Siam’s list is the aptly named Yum Seafood, which, in this case, translates as “to mix together, usually a mélange of hot and tangy ingredients,” rather than registering taste-bud appreciation. This is why the word appears in both Thai salads and soups. Here, the combination is warm shrimp, calamari and mussels on the half-shell, scattered willy-nilly in a thicket of crisp squares of iceberg and jumbled with lemongrass, dry chilies, cashews, onions, mint and cilantro, with some squirts of lime juice for good measure. There’s probably enough for two, but it’s too good to share.

Also intriguing is Moo Yang—barbecue pork with a sweet-and-spicy chili sauce reminiscent of Vietnam’s nuoc mam, a large salad and a generous bowl of rice. The pork is dead on, chewy but not shoe leather, and there’s plenty of it. From the specialties list, Invisible Duck is marinated, battered and served with sweet sauce. It comes without salad or rice and would be more enjoyed if the aforementioned were ordered along with it.

Servers are attentive but seem to be saving their reservoir of charm for regulars. The large pint-sized glasses of Thai ice tea come in handy for dowsing the heat. A little like Tom, Siam is still a delight after all these years.