With summer in denial that the calendar tells us it is fall, I decided to celebrate the turn of the seasons by testing out the newly opened Sticky Rice, a Thai restaurant with a Lao twist located in the former Wedge on Neil Street within Downtown Champaign. While I do mourn the passing of Wedge, I didn’t let that stop me from visiting a new food location in the area.
Walking up to Sticky Rice, one can still notice the remnants of Wedge on the exterior in the form of the supports used to hold up the Wedge sign. A closer inspection reveals the front doors were perhaps painted a bit too fast to open the new restaurant quickly, as some of the paint is already flaking off. However, the interior of Sticky Rice is quite a different story. Painted in a variety of calming shades of brown with black accents, I immediately felt at home in Sticky Rice. As someone who grew up with fans perpetually on in whatever room I was in during summers, I appreciated the rhythmic clacking of the interesting double-bladed fans above the bar. Seating myself at a table, I started out by ordering a few appetizers.
After only a few minutes of listening to quiet background music and the fans, I received my appetizer much sooner than I anticipated. Starting with the lighter option, I took a bite of the first spring roll ($5 for two). With a wonderful crispness from the veggies, I was surprised not only by the inclusion of shrimp in my rolls, but also thin slices of pork. Five dollars for only two spring rolls may seem a bit steep to some, but rest assured these are substantially-sized. With each bite, I also made sure to gather up some of the accompanying sauce. Just barely on the sweet side of things, this dark sauce was a perfect compliment to the rolls, as they didn’t have much seasoning or flavor on their own.
With my appetite primed, I picked up a crab rangoon ($5 for six) from the second platter of appetizers delivered to me. While I usually see crab rangoon folded into tight pieces, these were all spread out into roughly palm-sized pieces. Unsurprisingly, I prefer this style, as the cream cheese is less likely to clump into the center of the Crab Rangoon. Thankfully, these flat treats did not lose any of their traditional crispiness with the shape shift. The moderate amount of cream cheese filling was just to my liking, as too much cream cheese in crab rangoon tends to overwhelm me. Interestingly, the provided dipping sauce contained wonderful citrus overtones and certainly more than a small amount of mango juice. While I normally prefer sweet and sour sauce with my crab rangoon, this citrus sauce was a wonderful pairing with the fatty appetizer. I recommend splitting these with a group for something just a little bit different.
For my entrée, which arrived only a couple minutes after my appetizers, I enjoyed a hearty helping of pineapple fried rice with pork ($11). The dark brown rice with flecks of red-rimmed pork and green onions carried a faint whiff of pineapple, just as I’d hoped. After taking a few bites, I discovered how difficult it was to capture all the flavors in a single spoonful. One spoonful would contain pork, onion, rice and pineapple, while another had a few peanuts, rice and a stray raisin or two. I really loved how complex Sticky Rice made their pineapple fried rice dish, as every bit was excitingly different. Oh, and those raisins I briefly mentioned? They were the MVP for me, as their unique texture and mild sweetness contrasted nicely with the very sweet pineapple and salty pork chunks.
Unable to leave without dessert, I rounded out my meal by eating sweet sticky rice with mango ($6). Coming with a scoop of homemade coconut ice cream, I enjoyed the three distinctly different components of the dessert. There was the warm, mildly sweet rice, the somewhat cool juicy mango chunks and the chilly extremely sweet coconut ice cream to bring it all together. A delightfully tropical dessert, I recommend the sweet sticky rice with mango for anyone looking to enjoy Sticky Rice’s signature food.
Feeling a little sleepy, I spontaneously ordered a Thai iced coffee ($5) to wash everything down. Sweetened with sugar and milk, I spent a few seconds appreciating the beautiful transition from dark coffee to the swirl of milk at the bottom of the glass. Before I knew it, I’d downed the entire glass. For anyone wanting a jolt of caffeine without the bitterness of black coffee or the overly sweet coffee drinks some other places craft, I recommend the Thai iced coffee.
Walking out with a skip in my step, I was already planning my next visit to Sticky Rice. Would I order fried rice again, or try their pad Thai to compare it to other local varieties? Would I try the sweet sticky rice with custard, or just stick with a Thai iced coffee next time? Regardless, I knew I’d be back, and with friends on the return visit.
415 N Neil St.
Su noon to 9 p.m.
M-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Photos by Matthew Macomber