A flaming sugar cube greets diners at Sugar Sungkamee’s restaurant, Spicy Sugar, which debuted at the end of January in Long Beach. You may recognize Sugar from Jitlada, the incendiary East Hollywood restaurant that her father, chef Tui Sungkameee, runs with her aunt, celeb magnet Jazz Singsanong.
Spicy Sugar’s opening is big news in the Thai restaurant world, marking the first time that Tui Sungkamee’s recipes are available outside of Jitlada. That said, Sugar has charted her own path. The restaurant prodigy attended Cal State University, Channel Islands, majoring in business, and always wanted to open her own restaurant. When she found the space that housed the short-lived Asian Umbrella Café, she pounced.
Jitlada is famous for an encyclopedic menu. Spicy Sugar plans one day to have a section devoted to Sugar's family’s Southern Thai roots. For now, you’ll find a smaller menu that doesn’t rely on one person to execute the food.
Spicy Sugar’s space is small but colorful, with red carpet, glass-topped tables displaying decorative Thai fabrics and a wall-mounted shrine devoted to religious food offerings. You'll also find a cutout of the famous Southern Thai cartoon character Ai Teng.
Spicy Sugar’s food isn’t as flaming hot as Jitlada, though if you choose to indulge in spicy jungle curry or spicy Serrano beef with Thai chilies, you certainly will feel the heat. Outside of a few dedicated chili-heads, diners may be relieved to learn that Spicy Sugar doesn’t offer Jitlada’s “dynamite challenge,” which is the culinary equivalent to having TNT go off on your palate.
Among Sugar’s favorite dishes is a spicy duck salad with big chunks of skin-on duck, lettuce, tomato, cucumber and onion. Crying tiger beef might look different from versions you’re used to, with nearly jerky-like strips served with julienne carrots and a salsa that resembles pico de gallo, but spicier. Chili paste clams get stir-fried with chili paste and green beans into a dish that begs for fried rice.
Thankfully, Spicy Sugar serves a litany of fried rice dishes, including turmeric fried rice, shrimp and scallop fried rice, and crab claw fried rice with just enough appendages to serve as hours on a clock.
Specials appear on a dry-erase board. During our visit, that meant fried fish cakes, Thai honey ribs, spicy garlic wings, teriyaki snapper, and green beans with crispy pork.
Sugar also offers decidedly un-Thai dishes such as spicy spaghetti and meatballs, spicy ramen and teriyaki chicken.
For dessert, of course there is mango sticky rice, but sweet sugar rolls should really be your first choice. Flaky, pan-fried roti bread is served like a fruit roll-up, wrapped around condensed milk and white sugar. After all, what would a meal at Spicy Sugar be without a little sugar?
Spicy Sugar, 1538 E. Broadway, Long Beach; (562) 983-3900.