Bring the Funk

9999 Thai-Laos Boat Noodle

3010 Florin Rd.
Sacramento, CA 95822

(916) 202-7996

9999 Thai-Laos Boat Noodle doesn’t offer 9,999 versions of boat noodles, thankfully. The name stems from cultural tradition; in much of Asia, 99 is considered a lucky number. So, in such a competitive industry and with countless Thai restaurants in the area, why not summon double the luck?

It looks like 9999 Thai-Laos Boat Noodle could still use more luck. On multiple visits, the spacious restaurant was completely empty, or contained just one other party. That meant more than 120 seats lay vacant, plus a large, desolate bar. A karaoke stage and its accompanying dramatic music videos hint at 9999’s potential as a nighttime destination. But for now, it’s just another undiscovered gem in south Sacramento.

9999 opened in May with a clean, fresh design uncharacteristic of the area: high ceilings, bright lighting, draped tapestries, a tasteful color palate of browns and beiges. Service is impressively friendly and fast.

Compared to Thai joints on the central-city grid, 9999 boasts low prices, large portions and far more sour, pungent dishes—anyone shy about strong flavors better look elsewhere.

Take the spicy basil fish ($12.95), one of the priciest items on the menu, but also one of the most striking. Lightly fried catfish fillets, green beans and bell peppers are doused in a garlicky, tangy chili sauce. The plate is covered with a bed of crispy, whole basil leaves for an extra blast of sweetness and texture.

Another pricier, but totally worthwhile, order: the duck larb ($12.95). Sure, 9999 also offers this Lao-style salad with pork, chicken or beef ($7.95). But the addition of crispy duck skin to an already-delicious combo of minced meat, mint, chili, rice powder and lime—another exercise in salt, sour and spice, without any gamey duck taste—is downright exquisite.

Servers won’t hesitate to recommend the Thai sausages—and they’re absolutely right to do so. Choosing between the Thai herb sausage ($7.95) and E-San sausage ($7.95) is tough, so perhaps just try them side-by-side. The former boasts a deep roasted flavor and plenty of cilantro; the latter is stuffed with plump sticky rice and pleases with a sour finish.

Then, there’s the namesake dish: boat noodles. The restaurant’s most popular version is the kuaw tiew combination ($6.95-$8.95), which comes with an absurd amount of meat swimming in a tangy broth. There’s sliced, tender beef; meatballs with a bouncy, fishball-like consistency; strands of tripe; deep-fried skin; and tendons. You choose the noodle—the thin rice noodles work best here, though the wide ones are made fresh daily—but the umami-rich soup is the star.

Adventure-seekers might try the som tum poo ($6.95), the Lao version of papaya salad, which delivered an onslaught of salt, sour and spice. Buried in the shreds were chunks of salted black crab—claws and all—which felt too substantial to comfortably chomp through but also too small for fishing out flesh. It’s traditional, certainly, but we still found it off-putting. A safer option might be the peanut-topped Thai version, which swaps out the crab for dried shrimp.

More common dishes—pad thai ($8.95) and green curry ($8.95)—are well-executed but less memorable. Across the board, though, prepare for that distinct fish sauce aroma. The cooks season just about every dish on the menu with fish sauce in lieu of salt—vegetarians, take note, you aren’t safe here.

This isn’t Midtown, where most Thai restaurants bend over to ensure your meal can be made vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free. This is 9999 Thai-Laos Boat Noodle, unapologetic with its fermented funk.