View our other publications:

Travel Asia with Sweet Basil Cafe

Sweet Basil Cafe

2 E. Main St.

Victor 869-5009

“Pan-Asian” is a term that thrills some and strikes fear in the hearts of others. I am in the latter category. Why, you ask? The culinary world is Eurocentric. The diverse cuisines from the vast continent of Asia are often not given the space to be explored individually. The “why” for that involves a look into the world’s unpleasant history that anyone can Google.

“Pan-Asian” restaurants typically serve a handful of dishes that appeal to Western palates and are cooked in a way that has little regard for its origins. Given that a restaurant is one of the hardest businesses to be in, it is understandable that one would take the path that is most likely to lead to commercial success. However, over time, this causes a large disconnect between the food and the culture it came from.

At Sweet Basil Cafe, it’s clear from the get-go that they are dedicated to representing each Asian cuisine properly. The menu consists of Cambodian, Korean, Thai, and Vietnamese dishes—so much to choose from!

For small plates, you must start with the jeon. The vegetable jeon is a savory pancake from Korea. The version here is light, crispy, and far too easy to finish without noticing.This is a crowd pleaser.The vegetables (carrots, scallion, onion) are shredded and coated in batter—even picky eaters will enjoy this one.

Sweet Basil offers a limited number of fried spring rolls every day. When the spring rolls hit the table, I was blown away by how neatly they were rolled. Whoever is rolling them is dedicated to the craft. (I dread rolling spring rolls, so I have friends help me with them. We will be using Sweet Basil Cafe’s roll as the gold standard. The “perks” of being my friend are countless.) The filling was made of chicken and spices. It is possible they hand mince the meat for the filling as it was very juicy and flavorful—an almost impossible feat with ground chicken. The wrapper was fried to a very even and picturesque golden brown. Rochester does not have any Cambodian restaurants currently to my knowledge (if you know otherwise, please message me on Instagram at @tablefornaz!). Sweet Basil Cafe has quite a few Cambodian dishes on the menu.

Somlar machu (Cambodian sour soup) is tom yum’s extra-tart sister. The broth is a vivid yellow from the turmeric, which also lends an earthy note to the tamarind’s sourness. This soup is chock full of vegetables and protein of your choice. Paired with a bowl of rice, this will be competing with my current winter companion soup (there is plenty of winter for both of you, tom yum).

For the meat lover in your life, I suggest the lok lak. It is the Cambodian take on a similar Vietnamese dish called bò lúc lac/shaking beef. Pieces of beef are seasoned generously with black pepper, then seared and served atop lettuce, tomato, and cucumber. There is a fresh lemon dipping sauce to go along with the beef and vegetables and balance out the umami bomb. Sweet Basil Cafe offers a different curry weekly. It is made from scratch in-house and can be ordered on its own or in the num pra chuk (Cambodian noodle soup).

While many restaurants make different types of curry to order, I applaud Sweet Basil’s recognition of the fact that it is indeed traditionally a slow-cooked dish in many cultures that is eighty-sixed when the curry pot is empty.

The menu includes more familiar fare like lo mein and pad thai for the picky eater friends you keep inviting to dinner. There are great options here to help those friends segue to other, more interesting choices (e.g. can anyone really hate a heaping pile of rice noodles topped with grilled meat and a citrusy sauce?).

Sweet Basil Cafe is a family business that opened during COVID. Despite the immense struggles of operating a restaurant during a pandemic, the owners continue to soldier on, and it is obvious that they are cooking from the heart. Every single dish I tried was both tasty and true to its roots. The cozy space felt like home and so did every bite.

Tomas Flint 585 Sweet Basil 1004

Jeon: Korean veggie and scallion pancake

As the weather cools down, I recommend taking a drive to the village of Victor to look at the colorful leaves and warm up with the many flavors of Asia done well at Sweet Basil Cafe.

Subscribe to our newsletter