407 NW 17th Ave., 227-8000, fishsaucepdx.com.
[EAST MEETS WEST SIDE] In a gauzy dream sequence, I am beckoned to a remote area of town to check out a dingy, under-the-radar ethnic joint where every dish is a stunning success of bright, bold, exotic flavors. Reality at Fish Sauce, a year-old Vietnamese restaurant on a quiet corner just west of the Pearl District, departs at an acute angle from that dream. It's not remote, dingy or flawless, but there are enough attractive offerings to make Fish Sauce a worthwhile stop, especially for those hankering for chao tom on the West Side. Start with two appetizers: warm bo bia (jicama rolls, $7), which get crunch from the namesake ingredient and a fermented-meat baritone boost from sweet Chinese sausage, and banh beo ($6), a disc of rice flour batter steamed until firm in a small, shallow bowl, then topped with a choice of yellow bean paste, minced shrimp, bits of fried pork belly, or a chicken and mushroom mixture. Try all the variations at once and spoon liberally from the bowl of boisterous chili- and palm sugar-enhanced fish sauce at the center of the platter. Among main courses, the best is ga chien ($10 half, $17 whole), deeply bronzed, crispy-skinned fried chicken that is moist throughout. Accents came from small but ample sides of Sriracha, flaming sambal oelek and a mix-it-yourself dish of salt, pepper and lime. A second top choice: Korean-style crosscut kalbi short ribs ($16), grilled simply and imbued with a sweet garlicky flavor. The meat is tender, with just enough chew to keep things interesting, and the portion is fair-sized for the price, especially for the Pearl.
Ideal meal: Kalbi barbecue beef ($16) and banh me ($2), deep-fried sesame-coated spheres of rice dough filled with a yellow bean paste and coconut and served with honey for dunking.
Best deal: Banh beo (steamed rice cakes, $6).
Pro tip: The happy-hour menu is packed with steals. From 4:30 to 6 pm and 9 to 10 pm Monday through Saturday, you can get salad rolls (goi cuon, $2) cheaper here than anywhere on 82nd Avenue.
11:30 am-2:30 pm Monday-Friday, 4:30-10 pm Monday-Saturday. $$.