PGR Thai Noodle3672 J St.
Sacramento, CA 95816
Another day, another Thai restaurant: That’s how this job feels sometimes. And so, I quit.
Actually, I gave notice a while ago, and it’s more or less a coincidence that my first review in this space, not quite five years ago, was a Thai restaurant on J Street, and so is this one, my last. They’re not the same place, at least—though I did previously review a restaurant that occupied the location of this week’s contender, PGR Thai Noodle. Its predecessor, Siam Restaurant, was short-lived; I’m hopeful PGR Thai Noodle will last a little longer, as it serves up fresh-tasting, honestly cooked Thai food in a takeout-ready neighborhood.
The late Siam took over the building from, if I recall correctly, a KFC, and the rather plain interior has not changed much since that original refurbishing. It’s bare and forgettable inside, with a few pictures of flowers (as well as a few real and faux bouquets scattered around) and not much else. The tables are few; this place is probably doing a lot of business by takeout, and that’s how I’d expect to use it myself. It’s pretty much a two-person show running the place, as far as I could tell from my visits, and they (a man and a woman) were welcoming and pleasantly solicitous.
As you might expect from the name PGR Thai Noodle, the menu is rich in noodle dishes—in particular, an entire page of noodle soups, from brothy duck or seafood affairs to rich curried types. The kao soy soup was one of the latter, a tangle of skinny egg noodles (crispy, on top of the soup) in a thick yellow-curry base with slices of chicken, pickled mustard greens and red onions. I might have liked a bit more of the pickled greens, but otherwise the soup was lovely: a balance of a little sweetness and zippy heat, creamy texture and lean chicken, and the eggy, tensile noodles. With its yellow hue and warming flavors, it’s just the thing for a chilly, dreary November day.
The juicy chicken satay, with flavorful char marks and mild hints of coconut and lemongrass, was also good—not outstanding, but fresher and cleaner in flavor than many restaurants’ renditions of this classic. The accompanying peanut sauce was so sugary it reminded me of the filling of a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup, and the cucumber salad was also a little oversweetened, but the satay itself was nicely balanced.
Another appetizer, the calamari salad, had more punch and distinction. The meaty, thick squid was superlatively tender, with a silky crispness about its texture, thanks to that crosscutting maneuver, and the dressing managed to be astringent, barely sweet and hot (we’d ordered medium, and it was just right) all at once, with a rounded, just-shy-of-burnt, almost bitter edge, thanks to toasted rice powder. It was a restrained portion and happily shied away from the profusion of garnishes you see at a lot of Thai places; too often when I get one of these sour-spicy seafood salads, half the stuff on the plate is thin-cut red cabbage or fancily ribboned bits of carrot or other flourishes that are far from the main event. Here, the squid was tossed with strips of crunchy peppers and some greens—some of them, unfortunately, a little wilted, but most fresh and bright. We polished it off quickly.
One of my favorite Thai dishes is pad see ew, thanks to those big, thick, flat rice noodles. They have it here, as well as the gravy-based laht nah, but they also had something even better: spicy pan-fried noodles with vegetables, made with those same big flat noodles, but with more veggies and a lighter sauce. They added a meat, too; it turned out to be little chunks of savory ground pork throughout the dish, which I loved. The vegetables included green beans, green and red peppers, herb leaves and so forth, and they added sweet freshness to the dish. It was only moderately spicy, but it had a good flavor and toothsomeness.
Also fresh and bright was the himapan tofu, cubes of fried tofu tossed with nutty-toasty cashews, crunchy onion slivers, peppers and diagonally cut lengths of celery. The tofu itself had a sourish edge, but the dish’s sauce, with a caramelly brown-sugar flavor and an undertone of heat (thanks to some wrinkly dried chilies) balanced it. It came with a scoop of nice, light jasmine rice.
Drinks are fairly basic here; there are a few wine and beer choices and sweet drinks like coconut juice and an icy mint lemonade (my husband’s verdict: The mint was fresh; the very sweet lemonade, maybe not so much). There’s also a small lineup of desserts, which we didn’t try; we were sated from the entrees. The satisfying flavors of PGR Thai Noodle will probably keep me coming back, especially for the many and various noodle dishes—even though, or maybe especially because, as of now, it’s not my job to judge them anymore.