601 SE Morrison St., 234-4102, taradpdx.com.
[PORK POT HIGH] Tarad Thai's interior looks like a '70s Chiang Mai bodega designed by Hollywood, a home for Viet-vet expats who moved to the Thai countryside to find their souls. A motley tiling of reclaimed wood lines the walls, and bits of domestic furniture and door moldings are cobbled together into retail shelves holding low-priced curry cans, Nong's Khao Man Gai sauce, hot pots, Thai soap and toothpaste. Meanwhile, the menu's list of northern specials includes some of the best Thai in the city. Though the gaeng oam hot pot dish ($12) billows with flavorful herbs, chili, lemongrass and kaffir leaf, the real wonder remains the audacity of the broth's sheer meatiness. The gaeng hung lay ($12) is likewise meat-centric, a stewy showcase of tender pork and pork belly melded so completely with copious ginger that spice and meat become indistinguishable. Meanwhile, the som tum green papaya salad ($7), served with fresh tomato and perfectly cooked shrimp ($3 extra), is every bit as good as Pok Pok's, with bright lime and a lingering chili spice that offers no quarter to the tourist, but doesn't railroad the flavor. The place is a beautiful refuge; if you don't find your soul there, you'll at least know what soul tastes like.
Ideal meal: Gaeng oam, som tum with shrimp.
Best deal: The sides menu includes five wontons for $2, and $3 pork meatballs or roasted pork.
Pro tip: You can order your soup or stew âpisetââlargeâfor $10.
11 am-3 pm Monday-Friday, 4:30-9:30 pm Monday-Thursday, 4:30 pm-1 am Friday, noon-1 am Saturday. $$.