Stay for the Khao Soy
Khao Soy Thai House
Khao Soy Thai House6519 Savings Pl.
Sacramento, CA 95828
As a teenager, I lived with my friends and their family who immigrated from Laos. I quickly developed a taste for all things sweet, spicy, salty and sour—flavor combinations that sent your brain into existentialism.
We’re still friends 17 years later and I still don’t know peep about the region’s cuisine. So when I wanted to visit the Khao Soy Thai restaurant, I brought my friends along who do know.
Khao Soy is owned by Nai Saetern, who is also the head cook. She can be seen in the back toiling behind oversized pots and stirring away at various broths. Her daughter, Abbey Saetern, works the front of the house effortlessly. Customer service is immaculate and this is their first restaurant. Before this, Nai worked at Cache Creek in 2009 when they moved to Sacramento from Alaska. After a year of revamping their location, it’s airy and spacious, but cozy and warm at the same time.
The medium Pho Combination ($6.95) with extra noodles ($1), meatballs, sliced steak and tender beef tendon, was a generous amount, but we found the broth to be extremely bland. It didn’t matter how much lime, fish sauce, soy sauce, hoisin and Sriracha I put into it, I just couldn’t get that satisfying bone broth flavor. The Thai Style Papaya Salad ($7) was similar. Although they had what I suspect most gastronomes would describe as “clean flavors,” I couldn’t taste any distinctive flavor that got the saliva pockets going.
The brawny chicken wings ($2 each) were heavily scored and on a stick, to promote quick and even cooking, and tasted like concentrated soy sauce. The Pork Lao Sausage ($3.50) could be spicier, but that floral lemongrass will have you hooked. For a nice combination, nestle a piece of the sausage inside of an indented ball of fragrant sticky rice.
The Laos Style Papaya Salad ($7) was extremely flavorful, getting massive amounts of help from its homies, crab and shrimp paste. The medium Boat Noodles ($9.95) didn’t need the addition of anything other than some Sriracha for spice, the broth was so delicious and deep (probably from the liver). The crispy pork cracklings on top are a welcome respite from an otherwise repetitive soft texture, but eat them fast as they become chewy if you leave them in the broth.
If you want pho, settle on the boat noodles. Fermented bean paste rides passenger and allows the tomatoes to have forefront acidity behind the wheel in the House Special Khao Soy ($6.95, medium). The roughly cut broad and flat rice noodles were a nice chewy addition. The pile of seasoned ground pork on top gets evenly dispersed as you mix it in with the grassy green onions, lemony cilantro and crunchy bean sprouts.
While there’s love in these dishes, there’s also a bit of self-doubt in some. I can only hope that the Saeterns gain the same confidence to produce the dishes—and the flavors—that they possessed to make the journey from Alaska to this modest restaurant in a South Sacramento shopping plaza.