When Akkapong Earl Ninsom returns to his hometown of Bangkok, he always finds himself back in Chinatown. One of the largest Chinatowns in the world, the neighborhood is a maze of seafood stalls and treat vendors, temples and bars, all tangled with the winding Yaowarat Road. Ninsom often finds himself in Chinatown after dark, in search of late-night bowls of peppery noodle soup and desserts, often sweet dumplings and buns.
Ninsom is easily one of Portland’s most celebrated chefs and restaurateurs. Each time he opens a new restaurant — tasting menu spot Langbaan, fried chicken destination Hat Yai, Thai barbecue mashup Eem — it rapidly rises to Portland culinary royalty. His latest blockbuster, Phuket Cafe, wowed just as quickly, with its peanut brittle-adorned “Thai ceviche” and elaborate kakigori. Many of his Thai restaurants pull inspiration from a specific region, like Southern Thailand or Isan, or a style of dish, like barbecue.
In 2023, the chef will add another star to his culinary constellation, this time using Bangkok’s Chinatown as a muse. Yaowarat should open this summer, location TBD, celebrating specific dishes found in the Thai neighborhood.
On the future restaurant’s Instagram, Ninsom has showed off recipe testing dishes like cuttlefish curry, sweet basil clams, and marinated squid in a seafood sauce, but the chef is quick to emphasize that nothing is locked in. He won’t finalize the menu until he and the A-team he assembled return from a research trip to Bangkok later this month. The lauded local chef Sam Smith, most recently known for his work at Sweedeedee, will help open the restaurant, as well as Ninsom’s longtime cocktail collaborator, Eric Nelson (Eem, Phuket Cafe). Ninsom has also hired a Thai chef who spent three years cooking Thai food in Beijing. “She’s actually perfect for the project we’re working on,” he says.
While the specific dishes are still in development, what he does know is that the restaurant will make direct allusions to dishes the group tries in Thailand, and will attribute each dish on the menu to the restaurant, stall, or bar where it was served. The idea: Give people a culinary guidebook for their own trip to Bangkok, with an idea of what to order.
“We want to be approachable, reasonable, fun,” he says. “Not serious; just chill.”
This story will be updated with more information. Follow the restaurant’s Instagram for more updates.