SOPHY’S CAMBODIAN AND THAI CUISINE
Where: 3240 E. Pacific Coast Hwy, Long Beach:
Entire menu served daily 9 a.m.-10 p.m.: (562)494-1763
Atmosphere: Elegant Asian
Smoking section: No
Wheelchair accessible: Restaurant and restroom
Noise level: Conducive to conversation
Credit cards: MasterCard and Visa
The Thrifty Gourmet reviews restaurants at which you can find exceptionally good food at mostly $10 or less for dinner.
By John Farrell
Special to the Press-Telegram
Sophy’s Cambodian and Thai Cuisine has been in long Beach for some time, but it has moved around a bit. Those who love its delicious take on two delightful Southeast Asian cuisines have followed it as it sought out more spacious quarters. They know the restaurant has relocated on the southern slope of Signal Hill. Those who come upon the restaurant’s elegant premises for the first time won’t need a dose of history to be charmed.
The low-slung building on the south side of Pacific Coast Highway at Coronado was most recently a Chinese Buffet, and for many years was a successful bar and dance hall. When you see the new Sophy’s, with huge floor-to-ceiling windows open the street, intimate booths against those windows and family-sized tables farther down, with simple oriental decorations and gentle lighting, you may wonder that the restaurant has ever been anything else but Sophy’s. Sophy’s has the kind of understated elegance that goes with expensive restaurants, but one look at the large menu will tell you that isn’t true. There are a few items over $10, but the great majority are less than $9 and include some very unusual dishes from both national cuisines.
As is often the case with cuisines that come fro countries that share a long border and an equally long history, there are plenty of dishes that are favorites in both countries. But if you want to try just Cambodian (or Khmer) dishes, or just Thai, the friendly wait-staff can help you. If you want to do-it-yourself, order a Thai-Iced tea of Thai-Iced Coffee $2.75, relax and read the menu carefully. There are a lot of interesting specialties you have tried before, so many you may need several trips to educate your palate.
The great Thai favorites are all there. The Larb, $7.95, is called a salad, but it is much more: grilled ground meat, cilantro, chopped onions, mint, and a fish sauce, all rich with lime juice, served with chopped cabbage and eaten with steamed rice. It is addictive. The TomKah (CQ), $9.95, spicy and sour coconut soup is the classic Thai dish, and here it is rich and generously filled with chicken. And there are delicious curries, like Salaman Curry, $9.95, with beef or chicken in a slow-cooked sauce made with potatoes and coconut, a favorite tradition.
Right next to that on the menu is Kahrie TaLhoeng (CQ), Khmer Red Curry, $8.95, with beef or chicken, carrots, potatoes and onions served with French bread, rice or noodles. The Kahrie TaPeang (CQ), $8.95, is its spicy cousin, with basil and kaffir leaves added to the rich mix.
There are Khmer soups as well, the Somlaw Machu Kreoung, $9.95, comes with beef, chicken or fish and is called “Khmer’s favorite soup. The Tom Yum, $8.95, is a rich, spicy and sour red broth filled with mushroom and chicken, bracing and filling.
The Thai Boat Noodles, $6.50, can be soup or dry noodles, and come with beef, meatballs, beef ripe and shrimp, spiced with onion, cilantro and roasted garlic. The Phnom Penh (CQ) Noodles, $5.95, is a wonderful rice noodle soup with a special broth including pork patties, ground pork, sliced pork, meatball, cilantro with green onion and roasted garlic.
Pad Thai, $7.50, stir-fried rice noodles with egg, bean sprouts, and green onions, with crushed peanuts and bean sprouts on the side, is just about everyone’s favorite Thai dish, and here it comes with chicken, beef, pork or tofu, and is as good as its reputation.
Other Khmer specialties worth trying include Fried Scramble Eggs (CQ, $7.95 with ground pork and green onions in this Cambodian specialty, and Prahok Kteih, $8.50, steamed vegetables with a dipping sauce made from curry paste, pickled fish, ground pork, tamarind, kaffir leaves and coconut milk.
There are also a large number of desserts, including Tao Sun, $3.95, tallow bans cooked in yucca flower with coconut milk and Banana Pudding, $4.95, a Cambodian favorite with banana, coconut and tapioca, are only two of many.
Sophy’s has the kind of elegance and look that makes it a perfect place for celebrations and a menu made for culinary exploration. It is the kind of restaurant you can take out-of-town visitors too, fancy, inexpensive and a showplace for the cultural mix that is Long Beach.
John Farrell is a Long Beach freelance writer. This article appeared in the Long Beach Press-Telegram Friday, February 13, 2009.