Southern and comfortable

Sarom’s Southern Kitchen

Good for: Southern food, traditional American breakfasts and lunches
Notable dishes: jambalaya, fried chicken

Sarom’s Southern Kitchen

1901 El Camino Ave.
Sacramento, CA 95815

(916) 571-5355

Is there some special reason most Cambodians are good at cooking fried chicken? I found myself asking this question when I visited Cambodia five years ago and was offered homemade fried chicken almost daily; and I wondered it again recently after tasting the delicious dish at the Cambodian-owned Southern food spot Sarom’s Southern Kitchen.

We sampled Sarom’s fried chicken on two different occasions in two separate dishes: for breakfast (in an order of chicken and waffles) and as a stand-alone lunch plate with a side of greens. Both times, the chicken came out piping hot all the way through to the bone, with a nice, crunchy skin texture that wasn’t too oily on the outside. The batter on the thighs and wings featured a nice combo of pepper and breading to spruce up the flavor. A side of honey on the table proved to be the perfect condiment, balancing out the spicy and salty flavor of the meat.

As for the waffles on the chicken and waffle plate, they were a little bit on the soft side to start with, and got even soggier after pouring syrup on them. And the greens, despite being tossed with a few sweet bits of bacon, were relatively pedestrian—slightly bitter (as is normal with collard greens), but with almost no other discernible seasoning or taste.

Later, we tried a few seafood po’ boy sandwiches—one shrimp, one oyster (a catfish option is also available)—and a steak salad for lunch. Both sandwiches were served on a French roll, with breaded and deep-fried seafood, lettuce, tomato and some creamy sauces. Both were incredibly rich in flavor, but probably a little too high in calories and price ($11.50 for the shrimp, $14.95 for the oyster) to eat on a regular basis. The steak salad featured some great qualities: crunchy fried onions, tender steak, blue cheese. But it was also slathered in a ranch dressing that seemed to let down the whole salad. Probably a good idea to request a different type of dressing when ordering this one.

The jambalaya is one dish we’d certainly eat for lunch every day. Usually when dining at a Southern place, it’s hard to eat healthy, but the jambalaya made it easy. When we got home, we cracked open the lid of the container to find tender shreds of chicken, slender slices of sausage and tail-on shrimp in a very light broth with plenty of veggies. With the included side of rice, we couldn’t tell whether we were eating a healthy Asian stew or a Southern dish.

We returned again to try a couple of hearty breakfast plates: one with corned beef hash, two eggs and a biscuit and gravy; and another with brisket, an English muffin and two eggs. The corned beef hash had too soft of a texture for our liking, with too little meat and too much diced onion. On the other hand, the brisket was delicious: tender from slow cooking, plus a light fry on the outside to add a hint of crispness.

After every meal (even breakfast), Sarom, who told us she was once a doughnut store owner, brought us a small slice of a home-baked dessert. The sweet-potato pie had a very hearty flavor with a light touch of cinnamon. The carrot cake also wasn’t too sweet, with copious bits of pineapple offering up a crunchy texture. Other Southern touches included serving juice in a Mason jar and a soundtrack of soul music in the background.

Overall, it’s best to stick to Sarom’s Southern food—especially the fried chicken and jambalaya. Though the other American dishes we tried might offer plenty of comfort for those who need it, they just didn’t have the technical flair or soulfulness of these two standout Southern staples.