Early in my Carr Fire deployment to Redding I figured out that the Laotian cooking in this town was top notch. Trying many examples from different Lao restaurants became my chowing goal.
Seeing a familiar name from home, Champa Garden, was a special surprise. This is a branch of Oakland&amp;#39;s popular Lao-Thai restaurant, operated by the same family, and the second one established in the group before the San Francisco branch opened. This restaurant and neighborhood were evacuated when the fire approached. They lost power and not only sustained loss of business for a few days but had to toss their refrigerated food.
On a sweltering August night, an ice cold Beer Lao served with a frosty mug hit the spot.
First up, Nam Kao, $8, fried rice ball salad had lots of crunchy browned bits and bright limey acidity. The cured sausage was on the salty side but in that oppressive heat, that's what I craved. I added crushed peanuts from the condiment caddy.
Then Kao Poon, $8, that homespun Laotian coconut-chicken curry noodle dish. I paid 50¢ more to substitute fresh ho fun rice noodles for the usual vermicelli. The chicken soup base was so wonderful, fragrant with lemongrass and lime leaf, just enough spicy warmth to be interesting, and not too heavy with the coconut milk. Boneless, skinless dark meat chicken thighs were braised to softness. Shredded cabbage and bean sprouts added crunch and lightened up the textures.
The condiment caddy at Champa Garden is a sight to behold with plenty of armaments for adjusting salty, sweet, spicy and sour to one's taste.
My tab had a $10, "Carr Fire" 50% discount. I thanked the family but said it was not necessary, and I left an $11 tip. I also asked them to tell the cooks that their food is better than Oakland's.
107 Hilltop Dr
Redding, CA 96003
Monday-Thursday Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Dinner: 4:30 to 9 p.m.
Friday-Sunday Lunch: 11 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Dinner: 4:30 to 10 p.m.