Noodles worth the wait

House of Thai Rice & Noodle

House of Thai Rice & Noodle

5738 Watt Ave.
North Highlands, CA 95660

Good for: noodle soup, traditional Thai food

Notable dishes: boat noodles, kao-soy

During certain rainy spring and winter days in Sacramento, it’s somewhat easy to get flashbacks to Southeast Asia. One way to do that is by slurping bowls of noodle soup and sipping iced coffee at any Vietnamese, Thai, Lao or Cambodian restaurant in town. Proust-esque memories are even more likely if it’s raining, and the bowl of noodle soup is incredibly fresh and the coffee strong.

Such is the case with House of Thai Rice & Noodle, which opened in 2013 in North Highlands. Situated in a strip mall next to the Cuban eatery Sol Cubano, this relatively small Thai spot is often packed, and it sometimes takes a little while to get a seat. But the wait’s well worth it, and besides: Whenever service was slow, we were offered free Thai coffee or Thai tea.

For our first visit, we happened to visit on a rainy day, so ordering soup seemed appropriate. We settled on a small order of kao-soy (thick rice noodles and ground pork in a red tomato-based broth, with bean sprouts and fresh herbs on top) and started with Lao-style papaya salad (shredded papaya, green beans, crab, peanut, Thai chili and lime). Both dishes packed in plenty of flavor. If you’re a fan of pho, the kao-soy is definitely worth a try. The noodles resemble those at TK Noodle in South Sacramento’s Little Saigon: flat, fluffy rice noodles. The tomato broth was a bit plain, but a splash of fish sauce and Thai chili easily adjusted it to our taste.

It’s usually hard to find authentic papaya salad outside of south Sacramento (or various secret underground mom-and-pop operations), but the version here definitely stacked up. It featured tasty, tiny crabs (which makes it “Lao style,” as opposed to the “Thai style” with dried shrimp), fermented fish paste (probably too pungent for the average American palate) and a ton of heat from copious Thai chilies (also not for the faint of heart).

Since the first soup and salad were both hits, the next time we tried a bowl of shrimp tom kha with a ground-pork larb salad and a side of sticky rice. The tom kha (coconut-milk broth with mushrooms, bell peppers and herbs) wasn’t quite as comforting as the kao-soy, but still flavorful, with a subtle spicy and sour kick.

The ground-pork larb featured a delicious combination of fresh spices and herbs (lemongrass, green onion, mint) but had an almost overwhelming crunchiness. Something in it (roasted rice powder, maybe?) had a Grape-Nuts-esque texture that we weren’t used to.

We settled on more soup on another rainy-day visit with an order of boat noodles (beef noodle soup) and kao piak (chicken noodle soup)—plus an order of vegetarian spring rolls to start off with, mango and sticky rice for dessert and a plate of pineapple fried rice to go. The boat noodle was the better of the soups on this day, with lots of beef flavor in the broth augmented by slices of thin beef, meatballs and herbs. The kao piak might be a good choice for someone with a bad cold looking for really simple flavors, but it wasn’t too inventive.

The spring rolls will satisfy vegetarians and meat-eaters alike with their copious mixture of hearty veggies. And the mango sticky rice was a hearty, semisweet dessert to top off the meal. Later, the fried rice made for a good takeout dinner, with incredibly fluffy, sticky rice and sweet pineapple balancing the dish’s salty meats.

House of Thai’s decor and service are comforting (quite literally): Pillows accompany the booths, plenty of green tropical plants give it a lush feel, and old-school Thai sculptures and art adorn the walls. The owner often stops by and makes sure everything is OK, and as previously mentioned, often offers free drinks. It’s a great neighborhood Thai spot for North Highlanders and the surrounding suburban communities.