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Coconuts dish up curries, plus more
By Greg Sabin
Growing up in Sacramento in the 1980s, I could easily count the number of Thai restaurants. Today, keeping count is almost impossible. The region supports around 100 Thai places. And it’s not just a city thing. I’ve seen Thai restaurants in Susanville and Alturas.
It’s no wonder. Signature Thai flavors pull together sweet and savory, sour and bitter. Fresh vegetables and rich, pungent sauces deliver satisfying fare. Rice dishes, noodle dishes, curries and small bites create varied and exciting meals any day of the week.
One of the best local purveyors of Thai cuisine is The Coconut, with two restaurants—The Coconut on T and The Coconut River Park. Each demonstrates brightness of flavor and expert skills. A focus on local craft beer and wine doesn’t hurt.
The Coconut on T is located in quiet Southside Park at 11th and T streets. The corner has become a culinary cutout in a residential part of the grid. There’s Coconut and the wonderful South, purveyor of some of the finest Southern food this side of the Mississippi.
The Coconut River Park is at Carlson Drive and Lovella Way, the commercial heart of the neighborhood. The shopping center has two other restaurants worth visiting: Mamma Susanna’s Ristorante Italiano and Rooster’s Breakfast & Mimosas. Both Coconut locations offer efficient to-go options and limited outdoor dining.
At Thai restaurants, I usually don’t look much further than the curries. Coconut has a wide variety: yellow, red, avocado, pumpkin and Panang style. Each has its own flavor subtleties and important adjustments of vegetables and spice.
I’m a sucker for Panang curry. The rich red curry mixed with peppers, green beans, carrots and meats makes for a satisfying dish. One note of caution: When asked what spice level you want, understand “mild” means “mildly hot” and “spicy” means “face meltingly spicy.”
Larb is another dish I love. I’m not sure why—maybe it’s the name—but I can’t get dining companions to share my devotion to this Thai favorite. It’s a fresh, spicy, exciting plate that combines lettuce or cabbage, ground chicken or pork and plenty of onions, dressed with spicy lime dressing. Coconut’s larb is among the best I’ve tasted. I order it every time I visit a Thai restaurant. Give it a try.
At both Coconut locations, you’ll find perfectly executed versions of Thai classics pad Thai and pad see ew. The first is a combination of pan-fried noodles, eggs, sprouts, onions and ground peanuts in a sauce that shares almost no elements with any other edible substance on the planet. The second is a satisfying fried flat rice noodle with meats, egg and veggies.
Pineapple fried rice is served only at River Park. The recipe is novel. Combining curried rice, pineapple chunks, meat or tofu, with cashews and dried fruit, this dish goes beyond the usual Thai restaurant presentation. I love it and can’t wait until the next time I get to devour more than is probably healthy.
Finally, I’ll say this: Thai food is one of the easiest cuisines to accommodate meat eaters, vegetarians and vegans (or gluten-free eaters). The majority of Thai food uses no wheat and little meat (which can be easily swapped for tofu). A meal from either Coconut can satisfy nearly every food plan in the house.
The exception is nut allergies. If you have a nut allergy, avoid Thai food. Peanuts fly around the kitchen.
The Coconut on T is at 1110 T St.; thecoconutthai.com; (916) 822-4665. The Coconut River Park is at 5489 Carlson Drive; coconutriverpark.com; (916) 993-8942.
Greg Sabin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.