Exotic eats at Sopa Thai in Nevada City and Yuba City

THAI FOOD IS THE QUINTESSENTIAL exotic cuisine. It combines mysterious
sounding ingredients—such as lemongrass, coconuts and ginger-like galanga—for a sweet and sour, salty or spicy taste.

It also is one of the healthiest foods you can eat, because it depends on so many fresh herbs and spices. Tom Yum soup, a hot and sour soup with lemongrass and a staple of Thai cooking, has been praised for its health benefits by university researchers.

Thai also is among the fastest-growing foods in North America in terms of popularity, and the Sierra and its foothills is no exception. New Thai restaurants are popping up in towns stretching from Grass Valley to Tahoe City to Auburn.

Sopa Thai, with restaurants in Nevada City and Yuba City, is an institution when it comes to Thai cuisine in the foothills.

Opened six years ago by Sopaworn Savedra and her husband, Martin, the restaurant is known for serving authentic, fresh Thai cuisine that is made from scratch.

Sopa returned to her native Thailand for the restaurant’s decor, which include Thai tables and chairs, photographs and triangle-shaped pillows that separate diners. You can sit on cushions or chairs indoors, or in an enchanting, Asian-inspired garden outdoors—the best outdoor dining experience in Nevada City.

“The food is as authentic as you can get next to Bangkok, and the atmosphere is beautiful,” says a Sopa regular, Nevada City resident Linda Robbins, who often travels to Thailand on business.

The other day, Linda, her husband and their toddler daughter were dining on Sopa’s patio, enjoying their favorite dishes: red curry, crispy duck salad and fresh spring rolls.

When Sopa opened her first Thai restaurant in Yuba City, she was a pioneer.

“My friends asked me, ‘How do you know people are going to like Thai food better than Mexican, Italian or Chinese,’” she says.

“I don’t know. They’ll just have to try it.”

As it turned out, Sopa had a winner from the get-go. People enjoyed the fresh, healthy taste of Thai cuisine. Many of Sopa’s loyal customers made the pilgrimage from Nevada City and Grass Valley to her Yuba City restaurant.

This inspired her to open a second, 120- seat restaurant in Nevada City three years ago. It is housed in a historic building that was once the Sing Lee Laundry in Nevada City’s Chinese Quarter in the 1920s.

The food is still the main attraction at Sopa Thai. Sopa uses fresh ingredients from Asian markets in Sacramento. Some do not come cheaply, either—Thai basil, for example, goes for $9.75 a pound.

Sopa’s specialities include Som Tom (Thai style hot and sour shredded papaya topped with peanuts); Mango Red Curry; and Pla Pae Sa (steamed whole fish flavored with a plum sauce, topped with ginger, celery and steamed vegetables). Thai standbys such as Pad Thai or Drunken Noodles also are popular dishes.

Sopa also has a small store in her Nevada City restaurant, selling authentic, hard-to- find ingredients for Thai cooking at home.
You can buy Tamarind sauce, galanga and kafir lime leaves, among other ingredients. She also teaches Thai cooking classes at her

Sopa, who grew up in a village east of Bangkok, learned Thai cooking from her mother.

“We learned to cook when we were 9 years old to help our parents,” she says. “I’ve loved cooking ever since.”

Sopa came to the United States when she was a teenager. She and her husband, Martin, have been married 31 years.

The couple’s restaurant is a family affair.

Four of their five children—Martin, Anthony, Chanda and Pattra, age 25 to 36—help out at the restaurants. The fifth, Martina, lives in
San Diego. Sopa also has four grandchildren.

Sopa is content to run her two restaurants for now, but she wouldn’t mind
opening another in the Tahoe-Truckee area one day. She’d also like to bottle her popular peanut salad dressing.

“I love everything about America,” she says. “You can do anything and pursue your dream.”

312-316 Commercial St., Nevada City
530-470-0101 and
720 Plumas St., Yuba City
530-790-7676, sopathai.net

Sopa building in 1944

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