When Thanapat Namsri, Thipsuda Phatumratanachot, and Ammy Nguyen met working at a Portland Thai restaurant, they knew what the standard American Thai menu looked like. It involved a handful of curries, noodle dishes like pad Thai and pad kee mow, maybe some crab Rangoon. Even in a city like Portland, known for its regional Thai food, there were dishes that the three didn’t find on local menus — dishes like khao soi haeng, a dry version of the popular Chiang Mai noodle soup, or gaeng hung lay, a Northern Thai pork stew. But Namsri, the man in the kitchen, also wanted to play with the flavors and styles of other cuisines, pulling inspiration and techniques from Japan, Vietnam, and Korea. “When we all came together in this... we wanted to bring other traditional foods, fusions, and foods you don’t see at Thai restaurants, combined with other countries’,” Nguyen says. “We wanted to have more variety when it comes to Thai food.”
So this year, the three decided to open their own spot that could do just that: Udom Somboon, now open on NE Broadway, incorporates many Northern Thai dishes hard to find on Portland menus with Namsri’s culinary style, from a katsu-topped khao soi haeng to udon perked up with pickled mustard greens.
Udom Somboon’s Northern Thai influence can be felt throughout the menu, especially when it comes to khao soi. Beyond the restaurant’s khao soi haeng — which tosses egg noodles in a spiced coconut cream, pickled mustard greens, and a crispy fried chicken breast — Namsri uses the same coconut cream to coat fish balls with pickled peppers. The restaurant’s version of gaeng hung lay, traditionally made with pork belly, instead uses a pork shoulder braised with ginger.
Namsri’s culinary style, however, is even more pronounced than any specific cuisine. The chef pan-sears wild Sockeye for a dish he calls “Rim Suan,” topped with an aromatic herb and fruit slaw. The heavy use of herbs and fruit also appears in the restaurant’s crab salad, which comes dressed in a spicy lime and fish sauce dressing. And Korean pantry staples pop up a few times on the menu, whether it’s gochujang served alongside fried tofu or gochugaru in a lemongrass chicken stir-fry.
Phatumratanachot, on the other hand, has been handling the bar. Because Udom Somboon opened when dining rooms were closed, the bartender had to get creative, and began concocting a menu of non-alcoholic drinks to package for takeout. Now, the menu has an array of house-made mocktails, from lychee fizzes to strawberry-thyme sodas. Soon, Portland bartenders will be able to sell cocktails to-go, but the team at Udom is holding tight and waiting for guidance from the OLCC before teasing any potential menu changes.
Nguyen says that, while opening during the coronavirus pandemic wasn’t ideal, the group wanted to get their food out there sooner rather than later. “We felt like now was our time,” she says. “We already had a plan for a long time; we didn’t just want to cancel or disregard the dream. We wanted to move forward.”
Udom Somboon is open for takeout and delivery at 2512 NE Broadway Avenue.
• Udom Somboon [Official]