3145 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 234-6192, chiangmaipdx.com.
[No. 2 THAI TIE] The battle for second-best Portland Thai restaurant rages in the city where Pok Pok reigns supreme. Chiang Mai, specializing in the foods of its namesake northern Thailand city, is a contender, among a handful that have elevated above the pack, eschewing crappy pad thai and gloppy cloying peanut sauce. The menu is lengthy and relies on the Thai name and a brief ingredient list for each dish. A safe bet is to order the regional specialties listed on the first page. Best of the bunch may be khao tod naem kook ($13), a platter of crispy rice mixed with bits of fermented ("sour") sausage, ground pork, peanuts, chopped shallots and dried chilies served with lettuce leaves to make your own wrap. Another flavor-packed choice is nam prik ong ($12.50), aptly described by a companion as Thai-style Bolognese sauce—main ingredients are ground pork and tomato—but with a distinctive fish-sauce funk and moderate chili bite. These and the other dishes can be adjusted on a 0-4 scale to suit diners' heat tolerance. The space is small and utilitarian, so showing up impromptu at peak times with a big group from the country club is not advised.
Ideal Meal: Add a Thai curry and a noodle dish to your selection of northern Thai specialties for a diverse range of tastes and textures.
Best deal: Get concentrated flavor at minimum price with a bowl of spicy and sour coconut soup (tom kha gai) priced as low as $5 for a small bowl.
Pro Tip: Don't be intimidated by the menu. Go over it in advance on the website to narrow down unfamiliar choices.
11 am-3 pm and 5-9 pm Monday-Thursday, 11 am-3 pm and 5-9:30 pm Friday, noon-9:30 pm Saturday, noon-9 pm Sunday. $$.