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First Impressions: Thai Canteen gets off to a promising start

Published: Thursday, Jul. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am
Last Modified: Friday, Jul. 5, 2013 - 12:13 am

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com.

Thai Canteen

1501 16th St., Suite 109, Sacramento

(916) 382-9196

www.canteensac.com

Suvijak Bedahasdin, or "T," as everyone calls him, lived in Thailand for 26 of his 31 years. Now that he is a restaurateur – the first location is in Davis – he has devoted himself to serving food he knew and loved in his home country.

Apart from the food, there are a few things that make Thai Canteen stand out from the slew of Thai restaurants through the region. For one, you order at the counter. Second, this new midtown restaurant has a noticeably modern, urban décor and an overall absence of clichés.

Why counter service?

"People want casual service so they can grab a quick lunch or dinner. Sacramento is missing that kind of service," Bedahasdin said. That's not quite accurate.

Star Ginger, which opened two years ago on Alhambra Boulevard, also has counter service, though its ambiance isn't quite as elegant.

It also doesn't have the late hours – Thai Canteen will stay open until 1 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday; until 10 p.m. on Monday and Sunday.

Menu: It is laid out simply into categories, including rice plates, salads, soups, noodles and snacks. There are certainly lots of things to snack on for late-night dining after leaving the bars. But there are also many appealing options for lunch and dinner, including classic pad thai, pad se ew with broccoli and egg noodles, and several curry options with rice, including panang nuer (beef in kaffir panang curry) and kan kari (mild yellow curry with chicken).

Like most Thai restaurants, the key concern is how hot you want to go. For pad thai, there's no sense going beyond medium-hot. For red curry dishes, you can go from medium to hot and, if you're adventurous, all the way up to "Thai hot," which may leave you gasping.

Price: Very impressive – all of the dishes are under $10. Good portions, too.

Ambiance: This is where Thai Canteen sets itself apart from countless lookalike Thai restaurants. You notice it before you enter, with a modern wood and metal cut-out sign out front.

Inside, there are stained concrete floors and a modern mix of wood and steel throughout, including large, hearty wooden tables and a small bar with a bit of a tiki style.

Drinks: When we visited, they were days away from securing a beer and wine license; now they have it.

Service: Order at the counter, which should speed things up during busy weekday lunches. We encountered friendly employees.

First Impression: In the first few days, this restaurant had yet to secure a following, so our weekday lunch was not crowded. The concept, setting and cooking were all impressive.

Our spring rolls were nicely deep-fried, crisp and tasty. The pad thai was done with precision and showed all the hallmarks of a very good Thai dish – noodles that were tender without being gloppy, and clear, vibrant seasonings throughout. For starters, the deep-fried corn was a tasty treat.

The panang nuer with beef was the spiciest curry dish we tried, and this one showed off the balanced and dynamic flavors that make Thai food so appealing. For dessert, we had a dish of sweet sticky rice and ripe mango – simple and elegant. Overall, this restaurant concept should prove to be a hit in the midtown-downtown area and a serious contender in this competitive category.

Try it if: You're looking for a new Thai restaurant with urban style, good cooking and great prices. Forget it if: You insist on full table service and more traditional décor.

Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @blarob.

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