Thai Thai Express6840 65th St.
Sacramento, CA 95828
Thai Thai Express is not new—I overheard the owner telling another customer the restaurant had been there almost 10 years—but it’s easy to overlook. In the times I’ve been to the Pacific Rim Plaza, I’ve never even noticed it. The restaurant was called to my attention by a fellow writer, both in print and in person, who said I really ought to go check it out. So I did, and you should, too. The owners are friendly, the atmosphere and the cooking are homey, and the food is delicious.
I loved the somewhat unusual appetizer of “Thai-Thai fresh spring rolls.” Great big cylinders, they arrived smothered in a mahogany-colored, sweet-tart tamarind sauce, with slices of fresh, hot green chilies, plus cilantro and lettuce. The thin layers of rice paper around them were ultra-fresh and perfectly soft and translucent. Inside were layers of fried tofu and egg, cucumber and bean sprouts for crunch, and slivers of peppery Chinese sausage—a hearty snack that could easily serve as a lunch in and of itself.
I was slightly, but only slightly, less enchanted with the “Thai-Thai salad.” There are a lot of things on the menu described as Thai-Thai this or that, which seems fair enough in that a lot of them are items you won’t see on other area menus. (Or at least that I haven’t seen.) Among them are some soups, like Thai herb with fresh noodle, pork, and pork giblets; or spicy red seafood soup, steamed fish with lime sauce, shrimp paste fried rice; and, of course, the usual Thai-restaurant standbys: three colors of curry, coconut-milk soups, larb and various other meat-based spicy-sour salads, grilled chicken and pad Thai. There are few drinks offered (and no beer or wine, sadly, since a cold beer would have been great with the food), but we tried a fresh palm juice that was sweet, yet light and refreshing, with notes that were somehow both herbal and caramelized.
To get back to the salad: It had quarters of hard-boiled egg, somewhat bitter cucumbers, cool slices of fried tofu, and lettuce smothered in a mild peanut sauce with just a hint of a kick. All was topped with rustic slices of hot fried potatoes, which contrasted nicely with the cool salad.
A stir-fry of spicy green beans, fresh and crunchy, was balanced with tender little chunks of chicken in the brick-red chili sauce. Thread-thin shreds of kaffir lime leaves added a clean citrus-y hit to the barely sweet, spicy sauce, which was a perfect match for the delicately aromatic rice.
Thai Thai’s version of pad see ew (ordered to appease our toddler, but suited to adult tastes, as well) had an unusual delicacy: very thin and tender, but just char-edged, with thick noodles, light saucing, and bitter, crisp-tender Chinese broccoli in place of the big florets of regular broccoli one sees more often. The savory, moist bits of pork scattered throughout, as well as eggs, rendered it so yummy and so nicely balanced in its textures that I kept picking at it long after I was full.
Both the menu and window announce that Thai Thai Express offers “Thai Food and Desserts.” Although the menu lists just a few, very standard desserts—fried banana with ice cream, sticky rice with mango—there is an uncaptioned grid of photos of more unusual sweets on the wall. I asked for a container of the pictured tapioca (about the only thing I recognized) to go. Floating in tasty, salty-sweet, hot-coconut liquid, the softly chewy, grayish balls of tapioca were bigger than your standard pearls, but not as gummy or resilient as most tapioca. I think my palate is too Western to deal with the half hard-cooked egg that also floated in the mix, but it was interesting.
When I’m in the neighborhood of 65th and Stockton, I often—very often—end up with a banh mi. But I think I’ll have to add the neighborhood to my rotation more often for the Thai food now. Thai Thai Express is worth a bit of a detour. Don’t get me wrong: just about any restaurant with “Express” in the title is unlikely to be a fancy destination restaurant, and this is no exception.
Aside from the facts that it’s sparkling clean and roomier than the term might imply, hole-in-the-wall might be an apt description. Really, it’s a mom-and-pop joint, and it only takes cash. But the owner brought Thai jellied sweets out to amuse our impatient 2-year-old at the start of the meal; the food tasted scratch-cooked, and the place has a home-style feel—even the largely open kitchen looks more like a home kitchen than a restaurant one. The real treat, though, is the food.