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Sabaidee introduces Thai, Laotian cuisine to Ceres
The diversity of eateries in Ceres expanded Feb. 1 with the opening of Sabaidee Lao/Thai Cuisine, 2901 E. Hatch Road. Chan Champa, owner of the restaurant, believes his is the first of its kind ever in Ceres.

Located inside the former Golden Phoenix Chinese Restaurant - which closed last month after a 25-year run - the new restaurant adds a new spice to Ceres' culinary experience.

Champa, who in 1986 escaped Luang Prabang, Laos, at age 13 and lived in refugee camps in Thailand and the Philippines before he was granted immigration into the United States, learned to cook from his mother. He still maintains contact with his family in Laos but they are shocked to learn he has created the food items at Sabaidee (which means "Hello!" in Laotian.

"When I go home they treat me like I can't cook but they never let me try at home," said Champa, 36, who has lived in Ceres for several years.

So far word-of-mouth is growing his clientele.

"I must be doing something right because they are coming back."

The dream to open his own restaurant has been a growing passion. He and wife, Vang Chanthavong, have been catering Lao/Thai food for parties and weddings and were encouraged by friends to open their own restaurant. He scouted locations for a while before learning that the Golden Phoenix was closing.

Occasionally someone still walks through the door expecting to find the Golden Phoenix but trying the Thai/Laotian cuisine. The eatery still has some Chinese dishes, such as chow mein, mongolian beef and king pao chicken.

Ninety percent vegetable based, Lao/Thai dishes are "one of the healthiest foods around," said Champa. Dishes use asparagus, green beans, snow peas, onions and Napa cabbage as well as choices of meat - beef, pork or chicken.

So far the most popular dish is Rad Na Seafood, consisting of a variety of seafood mixed with gravy sauce and flat noodles and Chinese broccoli. At $8.97 it's a scrumptious bargain.

Another popular dish is the Pad Thai pan-fry (noodles, bean sprouts, crushed peanuts, green onion and eggs). Hawaiian Fried Rice is popular as is Pho, a Vietnamese dish that is popular in the Bay Area.

He also calls his Som Tum salad - with its shredded green papaya, tomatoes, and green beans a "must have."

His cooks can turn down the level of spiciness for those less tolerable pallets.

Champa said his clientele is diverse, with approximately 70 percent Caucasian, 20 percent Southeast Asian and 10 percent Latino.

The new restaurant seats 130 and is open 10:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. every day of the week. Thirty choices of lunch specials are offered at $6.97 which includes soup.