AUBURN — With fall quickly approaching, it’s good to know where to get a piping-hot, comforting meal to keep you warm and satisfied. For that, look no further than Sweet Rice in Auburn.
At Sweet Rice, a family-run restaurant serving up Thai and Lao food, you can find savory favorites such as pad thai, curry and fried rice. What’s unique about Sweet Rice is you can also select from a wide variety of Laotian meals, a cuisine not so widely found in the Seattle area.
Manager Elizabeth Saysana said her brother Robert Saysana, Sweet Rice’s owner, always wanted to open a restaurant and, since their uncle opened two Sweet Rice locations in Texas, Robert decided to bring one to Washington. Robert and Elizabeth are Laotian but grew up in Northeast Tacoma, so the Auburn location, which opened in early April, isn’t too far from home. They hope to expand in the future.
“(We’re) trying to bring the Lao food culture to Washington,” Elizabeth said.
Robert said he and his sister grew up eating Laotian food and his favorite dish is a traditional Lao seasoned egg omelet with sticky rice, a popular meal parents prepare for their kids. It comes as no surprise then that this is an item you can get on Sweet Rice’s kids menu ($5).
Elizabeth said among Lao customers, their most popular dish is the Lao-style papaya salad ($9) with shredded green papaya, tomatoes, carrots, green beans, chili and garlic. Their mixed plate ($15) with Lao spicy sausage, beef jerky and crispy fried pork riblets, served with steamed or sweet rice, is also a favorite.
Another popular order is their nam khao ($9), a crispy fried rice lettuce wrap, she said. Customers can choose from cured pork, steamed pork or tofu, served with lettuce and cilantro.
“I’m picky with nam khao,” Elizabeth said, “but I think ours is really good.”
She said she has been trying to get people to try their laad nah ($14), a pan-seared noodle dish with Chinese broccoli in a black-bean gravy sauce. And speaking of sauce, Sweet Rice makes theirs in house.
“(We’re) trying to expand people’s palates with our type of food,” she said.
When I first walked into Sweet Rice, I noticed the space was open and bright, thanks to a cutout in the ceiling and lime-green accented walls. My friend and I were met by a friendly cashier who asked if it was our first time. We went around peak lunch time on a weekday, but it wasn’t too busy and our food came quickly. At Sweet Rice, you order at the counter, so we sat down to spend some time with the extensive menu.
This casual setup stems from Robert wanting the restaurant to have more of a street-food feel. He said people will come in expecting a traditional Thai, fine-dining setup, but that’s not what they are going for.
One thing we made sure to try was the restaurant’s namesake — the sweet rice ($3). Something to know if you have never had sweet rice is that it’s not actually sweet! It’s just really sticky and makes for a fabulous addition to all the sumptuous sauces Sweet Rice has to offer. Plus, thanks to the bamboo basket it’s served in, the rice stays warm throughout your meal. The rice was a delightful companion to the grilled chicken skewers ($11). The outside had a light crispiness, and whatever they put in their “house special sauce” made for a delicious sweet-and-spicy bite.
Another dish I’m still dreaming about is the green curry ($10.50). We ordered it with tofu, but you can choose from chicken, beef, pork or vegetable at no extra charge. Shrimp or seafood can be added for $2 and $3 extra, respectively. I recommend the tofu as it was cooked perfectly and soaked up the curry beautifully. In addition to any added protein, this curry also includes basil, peas, bell peppers, eggplant and bamboo shoots served with a side of jasmine rice. The curry’s balanced flavor stood out — a harmonious blend of sweet and spicy. We went for two out of five stars for spiciness to test the waters, and were not disappointed. The amount of “kick” was just right.
If you’re craving tender, juicy steak bites, go for the pepper steak ($10.50). The beef slices are sautéed with sweet onions, carrots, scallions and bell pepper in a spicy sauce. We tried this dish as level-three spicy and while it definitely was spicy, it still wasn’t too much as to make it unenjoyable.
For a light appetizer, the lao fresh rolls ($6 for vegetable or $7 for chicken or shrimp) offer a fresh bite of lettuce, rice noodles, carrots and your choice of vegetable, chicken or shrimp wrapped in rice paper. We picked shrimp, which added a bit of salt and meatiness to the otherwise plain roll. If you’re looking for a little more flavor, you can dip them in your choice of peanut or sweet chili sauce.
To wash it all down, we ordered a couple of Thai teas ($3.50) with a sweet, nutty flavor. Personally, I’m not big on sweet drinks, but this distinctly orange drink wasn’t too overwhelming and paired nicely with the food.
When you get your food, you’ll notice everything is served in to-go containers, making it easy to take leftovers — which we definitely had — home. Keep Sweet Rice on your radar for friendly service, flavorful meals and healthy portions.
Sweet Rice, Tuesday-Wednesday 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 3-8 p.m., Thursday-Friday 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 3-8 p.m., Friday 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. and 3-9 p.m., Saturday 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Sunday-Monday closed; 4017 A St. S.E., #107, Auburn; 253-333-6677, sweetrice.com