Andy Ricker’s acclaimed Portland restaurant Pok Pok is, without a doubt, an exciting window into Thai cuisine, and has become a point of pilgrimage for lovers of Southeast Asian cooking in America. But the Chiang Mai-inspired restaurant is also just the most famous example of a vast, varied, and vibrant Southeast Asian food culture throughout the greater Stumptown. If you’re into spicy papaya salads and Ike’s Vietnamese fish sauce wings, there’s so much more to be found here, from an Indonesian coffee spot to a Laotian beer bar to a hidden Thai tasting-menu extravaganza.Read More
Portland’s Incredible Southeast Asian Restaurant Scene, Mapped
Go beyond Pok Pok to find the most essential Thai, Vietnamese, Burmese, and Indonesian food in town
Named after the Southern Thai city near the Malaysian border, Hat Yai is a walk-in, counter-service spot specializing in all things crispy. That means rice flour-battered fried chicken with fried shallots paired with Malay-style curry and pan-fried roti. There’s also green curry brisket and khua kling, spicy ground pork with turmeric, makrut, and lemongrass. South Thai flavors like these are less common in the U.S. than those from the north, making this is a must-visit spot. Check the specials board for more regional treasures worth pairing with a Thai iced coffee or a cocktail from the full bar.
Cully Central is a brightly lit, family-friendly sports bar serving traditional Laotian food alongside Oregon craft beers. Try the savory, deep-fried Lao beef jerky with fish sauce paired with chile-dense papaya salad; or the nam khao, a crispy rice salad paired with long lettuce leaves to make crunchy wraps. The casual atmosphere makes it easy to enjoy a Fort George beer while the kids run around in the restaurant’s designated play area.
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This North Williams hotspot is something of a Portland food scene supergroup. The name, Eem, is the first initials of its three owners: Earl Ninsom of Langbaan and Hat Yai, Eric Nelson of the cocktail pop-up Shipwreck, and Matt Vicedomini of Matt’s BBQ. The result of their combined efforts is a menu of outstanding curries — brisket burnt ends in white curry, smoked lamb shoulder massaman curry — inspired barbecue dishes like pork steak with Northern Thai chili dip, and Chopped BBQ Fried Rice. Tiki-esque tropical cocktails are on hand to cool things down.
Saron Khut and his family fled a war-torn Cambodia in 1981 for a Thai refugee camp where they lived for six months before relocating to the U.S. The family settled in Portland and eventually opened Mekong Bistro, a Cambodian restaurant that moonlights as the de facto meeting place for East Portland’s Asian-American community. Standout dishes here include som-lar maju kreung, an herbal sour soup with a choice of tofu or meat, and ah-mok, a tasty fish in coconut cream, cooked (and served) in banana leaves.
Chef Tomas Pisha-Duffly pulls from his Indonesian-Chinese heritage and New England upbringing for both traditional Indonesian fare and cheeky, out-there plates like pork and blood sausage corn dogs. The casual, colorful restaurant, tucked in a nondescript strip mall, is a natural fit for large-format dining, especially via its Rice Table, a $55 tour of the restaurant’s menu — all chef’s choice.
Poe and Kalvin Myint are serving Indian-influenced food of Myanmar at their restaurant Top Burmese. Highlights include laphet, a fermented tea-leaf salad with sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, and peanuts, and a buttery paratha served with a selection of paprika and turmeric-based curries. The small and cute restaurant space in Northwest Portland will soon be joined by another location in Beaverton.
Kopi Coffee House
To say Portland has a thriving coffee scene is an understatement. Still, Kopi (the Indonesian word for coffee) is unique among the many local greats. Using beans sourced directly from Southeast Asia, baristas prepare drinks like koi jahe — a ginger, cardamom, and nutmeg French press — and kedai susu — a latte with makrut-lemongrass and sweetened condensed milk. In the morning, wake up for stuffed breakfast rotis and coconut rice bowls with bacon, sausage, or curry.
Often overshadowed by its fine-dining sibling Langbaan, the casual Paadee holds its own with an Issan menu flush with tasty larb (do not miss the fluffy, omelet larb with crispy rice that’s full of citrus and mint). Whole salt-grilled rockfish is a stunner, as is the ba mhee pitsanulok, an egg noodle and pork broth soup featuring pork belly, red pork, and pork meatballs. The fun, fruity cocktails are a good match for some of the aggressively spicy dishes.
Hidden behind a bookshelf in the back of Paadee, reservation-only Langbaan serves a multi-course tasting menu that changes seasonally. Chef de cuisine Brandon Hirahara complements a variety of regional Thai flavors with wild pink sea bream, ramps, fried scales, and nasturtium, while pastry chef Maya Erickson sweetens the deal with carrot cake, white chocolate coconut mousse, and rhubarb with a black sesame sauce. Try the kanom krok, which features scallops, coconut cream, galangal, and lemongrass in a crispy-rice cup, but be warned: This is one of the hardest reservations to get in all of Portland.
Nong's Khao Man Gai
Nong Poonsukwattana arrived in the U.S. in 2003 with two suitcases and $70. A few years later she’d saved up just enough to buy a food cart, and went into business preparing and serving her signature dish every day until it sold out. She eventually raised enough to open a brick-and-mortar location on each side of the river. Nong’s Khao Man Gai specializes in the Thai version of chicken and rice. Poonsukwattana poaches free-range chicken in water, ginger, pandan leaves, and garlic; chicken fat gets rendered with shallot, galangal, pandan leaves, and garlic; jasmine rice is cooked in the aromatic fat and broth. The care put into each step is palpable in the final product. Go early and ask for a bag of fried chicken skins, which are almost always sold out within hours of opening.
The family behind Rose VL and its sister restaurant Ha VL have been perfecting Vietnamese noodle soups and sandwiches since 2006. The daily rotating soups — like Saturday’s turmeric mi Quang and Sunday’s crab flake soup — are complex, concentrated masterpieces. Cau lầu, a noodle dish from the central Vietnamese city of Hội An, features thick noodles, fresh herbs, sliced pork, bone-in chicken, peanuts, fried shallots, and wontons. The heady stew of wonderfully contrasting textures and flavors has earned this place many regulars.
An Xuyen Bakery
While An Xuyen Bakery is home to excellent pastries, macarons, and baguettes, the place is most beloved for its $2.99 bahn mi. It all starts with a crispy, fluffy loaf that is so good, other restaurants like Foster Burger and Lardo use it, too. Pickled carrots and daikon, cilantro, and cucumber top fillings like sweet barbecue pork, savory lemongrass chicken, or tender vegetarian “meat.” Finish off with a bag of guava cookies, durian cakes, and jelly rolls to go.
Bun Bo Hue Restaurant
From the outside, this corner spot with barred windows is less than beckoning, but Bun Bo Hue’s namesake beef noodle soup is a standout among the many versions in this part of town. Chile-spiked broth and bouncy Vietnamese vermicelli rice noodles join tender sliced beef and pork, sausage, pork knuckles, and blood cubes in a perfectly balanced bowl.