Smile Politely

Spicy delicious Lao-Thai cuisine at Sticky Rice

I enjoy a lot of delicious food as SP’s Food + Drink Editor, but one of my favorite places to eat in Champaign-Urbana is the woman-owned Lao-Thai restaurant Sticky Rice. Takeout from Sticky Rice sustained me throughout the pandemic and still satisfies on nights when I can’t seem to get my ass in gear to cook dinner. In 2018, Matt reviewed the restaurant shortly after it opened in the space that was formerly Wedge, the tequila bar, and in 2020, Remington interviewed Mickie Phetchareune the co-owner about opening the restaurant and how the pandemic affected her business.

I’ve tried much of the menu, but for this review, I didn’t order the same things I always do. My usual Sticky Rice order includes chicken pad Thai, yellow curry, or yum nuau salad (which I wrote about in January and in 2021). I aimed to try dishes that I’ve never had at Sticky Rice before — and I nearly accomplished this goal. I ordered an app, three dishes I hadn’t tried here before, and one I have: pad lard nar, my Sticky Rice must-have.

At Sticky Rice in Downtown Champaign, there are black and gold tables in a sun-drenched dining room. On the window ledge, there are various decorative elephants beside a window showing blue sky and wispy clouds. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Inside the restaurant, decorative elephants on parade line the window ledge. There is seating available at the bar in addition to tables in the dining room and on the side patio.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

We were the first people to arrive for lunch, and we had the place to ourselves. We were told to pick a table, and our server brought cups of water right away. As we ate, customers came in to pick up takeout orders that staff had prepared and set on the bar.

On a black table at Sticky Rice in Champaign, there is a tall glass of Thai iced coffee with swirled milk in the coffee. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

To start, I ordered the Thai iced coffee ($4). It was beautifully presented in a tall glass showcasing swirls of milk and cream. The taste was super smooth with no bitterness, a great sweetness, and a rich caramelized coffee flavor. I loved this iced coffee, and it’s great to go as well.

On a white oval plate at Sticky Rice in Champaign, there are three golden pork spring rolls. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

My usual appetizer at Sticky Rice is either crab rangoons or vegetable egg rolls, but we ordered the pork egg rolls ($5.50). Served with sweet red chili sauce, three hand-rolled spring rolls were filled with pork, lettuce, bean noodles, onions, and carrots, then deep-fried to golden. The crunch on the rolled layers was audible, and the pork was subtle. In fact, the pork rolls reminded me of the veggie rolls because of how much the filling was tender crisp vegetables. The rolls came out so hot that we had to do that awkward mouth-breathing-into-a-napkin thing after impatiently biting into a scalding roll, but I regret nothing.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

We ordered a variety of dishes to share: duck fried rice, pad kee mao, pad lard nar, and General Tso’s chicken.

On a black table, there is a white plate with Sticky Rice's General Tso's chicken with carrots. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

We began with General Tso’s chicken ($14.95), medium spice. Instead of the syrupy glaze in some versions of the dish, Sticky Rice’s General Tso’s chicken had a tasty thin sauce pooling around chicken with cooked white onion slices, carrots, and green onions, served with a side of steamed rice. The small pieces of chicken were hand-cut, breaded in house, deep fried, and deliciously easy to devour. The light breading on the chicken was softened by the sweet and sour sauce, but the chicken bites still tasted good albeit less crunchy than I expected. The sauce was a little spicy with a fruity tang, and it infused the carrots with so much flavor that I think I liked them even better than the chicken. I seriously could have eaten a bowl of just those carrots.

An overhead photo shows a white plate with pad kee mao at Sticky Rice in Champaign, Illinois. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

We tried the pad kee mao with beef ($14.95), medium spice. The dish is also called drunken noodles, but it is not made with alcohol. It has wide rice noodles with bean sprouts, onions, carrots, bell peppers, basil, and garlic tossed in a dark sauce plus a choice of protein (chicken, beef, pork, tofu, shrimp, or duck). The big, soft noodles and veggie medley absorbed the aromatic sauce with garlic, soy, and fragrant purple basil. The beef was a chewy bite which gave more time to savor it, and the egg morsels were well-seasoned and really yummy.

On a white plate at Sticky Rice in Champaign, there is duck fried rice. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

There are a lot of fried rice options at Sticky Rice: basic fried rice (just eggs and green onion), Bangkok fried rice, pineapple fried rice, combination fried rice, and vegetable fried rice. We ordered the original fried rice ($13.95) with duck ($5), medium spice. The rice was pretty spicy, and we loved chasing the heat with cold beer. The pieces of duck were tender, and there was plenty in the dish. Some duck bites were large and still had the skin. Every bite of duck had such a great flavor, something like cloves or anise, that went really well with the gamier taste of the meat. With only a few components: rice, duck, egg, and green onion, the dish’s simplicity highlighted the decadence of the duck.

On a white plate at Sticky Rice in Champaign, there is an order of pad lard nar with carrots. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Lastly, we ordered pad lard nar ($14.95) with chicken, which is a dish I have had before — and wrote about in my March five things article. This is my absolute favorite dish to eat when dining in at Sticky Rice, and it is so damn delicious. It’s still good for takeout, but eating pad lard nar fresh at the restaurant is nothing short of nirvana. The dish is just sauced up noodles with broccoli and yu choy, but there is something seriously incredible about these deep-fried noodles. Some noodles curled in creating layers of crispiness while some were flat squares. I loved how the noodle’s texture slowly changed as it was softened by the soy-based sauce. The thinly sliced chicken and broccoli consumed all the delish flavors from the sauce, too. Pad lard nar reminds me a little of pad se-ew — but with fried noodles. If you only order one thing from Sitcky Rice, make it pad lard nar.

The restaurant’s spice options are: mild (3/10), medium (6/10), hot (10/10), Thai (15/10), and Lao (20/10). I order a medium spice level, and it’s perfect for my tastes: spicy for sure but not too much.

On a black table inside Sticky Rice in Champaign, Illinois, there are two beers with two glasses of filled lager with a light head. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The restaurant offers a small selection of domestic and imported beer. We ordered a Chinese beer called Tsingtao ($6) and also a bottle of Singha, a Thai beer ($6). The label on the bottle of Singha read, “The original Thai beer,” and it was a crisp lager that was easy to drink. The Tsingtao was a refreshing Chinese lager with a bit of a bitter finish. Both cold beers were a welcome pairing with the spicy food.

It’s not just the food and drinks that I like. It’s the little things, too, like the bathroom. After years of only ordering takeout, I had no idea the sinks in the bathroom were so pretty.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

For me, Sticky Rice has been a slam dunk each time. I just can’t quit this spicy delicious food. I am already craving that pad lard nar again.

An overhead photo of four entrees from Sticky Rice in Champaign. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Sticky Rice is located beside Bentley’s Pub in Downtown Champaign and is open for lunch and dinner everyday except Tuesdays. You can order takeout online here.

Sticky Rice
415 N Neil St.
M 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
W-Sa 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
noon to 9 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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