Okay, so I spoke too soon last week. THIS is the official end of Thai-o-rama. A round up of my Portland Thai favorites in a handful of categories. Check out other blogger “best of” choices here, here, and here.
Best Pad Thai: Chiang Mai Two delivered the goods with nicely cooked noodles, succulent shrimp, snappy bean sprouts, a balanced peanut/tamarind sauce, and a juicy lime wedge. Runner-up: Veranda Thai Cuisine’s version was fragrant and peanutty with shiny, slurp-worthy noodles. Disclaimer: You must order Veranda’s Pad Thai at heat level 2 or higher or risk receiving a blanched pile of bland.
Best Curry: Vientiane. The little market surprised me with its exceptionally well-balanced red chicken curry. Thick with coconut milk and flecked with red pepper, it oozed a spicy richness that somehow deftly avoided a cloying heaviness so common to the Americanized version of this dish.
Best Spring Rolls: Sadly, Sala Thai won in this category by default. Fridge-flavored lettuce runs amok in Portland’s Thai restaurants. Sala’s were crisply fresh and the accompanying sauce – while a bit too heavy on the chopped nuts – added a pleasant zing
Best Soup: Hands down – Boda’s bitter melon soup stuffed with minced pork. Oily and aromatic with sesame overtones in a savory broth, the soup provoked my tastebuds like little I’ve tried before or since. It awoke areas of my tongue I didn’t know existed! A remarkable balance of flavors, it played the role of appetizer to a “T” – kicking my hunger into overdrive. And it killed with a crisp martini.
Best Atmosphere: Kitsch queen that I am, this category was tough one for me. I considered the authentic market vibe of Vientiane, the porn palace swank of Kon, and the “kooky cousin” charm of Masuma’s service at Sengchai Thai. But, in the end, the freaky lobster at Viet Bangkok Thai won out. Three feet long with flashing eyes that blink while you eat – what’s not to love?!
Best Deal: Pom’s Thai Taste for its “build your own soup” menu. My advice? Medium noodles. Five spice broth. Crispy duck. Prepared medium spicy. At $8.95 (lunch size) and $12.95 (a massive dinner size), it’s a filling, hearty steal. And, with a heat level that turns your cheeks rosy and sinuses clear – it’s a flavorful way to warm up in winter.
Best “I Never Expected to Like It” Dish: Chaing Mai Two’s beef salad took me completely off guard. A heaping pile of perfectly oiled freshness spilled over the plate with loads with greens, basil, mint, cilantro and tender strips of red pepper beef. Simply killer.
Best Overall. I said it in the review, and I’ll say it again – putting Boda in the same category as the rest of Portland’s Thai restaurants is like equating grandma’s from-scratch Sicilian with greasy-good college town pizza. It’s unfair . . .but whacha gonna do?
In my book? Boda is the best.