In PaaDee's back room, there is a place you can't go. As of press time, hyped-up Thai prix-fixe supper club Langbaan—so meticulous it feels like an art project—has no seats for six months, and no reservations thereafter.
But some of Portland's better Thai food can still be found in chef Earl Ninsom's front room at PaaDee.
Look first to the specials board, recently home to a tender plaa neung buay halibut dish ($16) mixing up ginger, plum, bean paste, shiitake and a whole lot of heat. The tender fish melted under the rich balance of sweet, salty, sour, bitter and spicy that is Thai's trademark.
One of PaaDee's whole fish dishes should be a part of any meal, whether a whole trout crisped on its skin and tangy with both apple and fish sauce, or a likewise skin-on grilled mackerel in garlic-mirin-scallop baste that out-romances XO sauce.
A similar complexity can be found in the housemade sausage—pungently spiced pork fermented and served up like miang kum, with lettuce wrap and toppings—and in the acidic pop and turmeric undercurrents of a kaffir lime curry made deep with ong choy leaf and fattened up with pork belly.
The cocktails are mostly mixed for fruity brightness as counterpoint to spice: Show up at the 5-to-6 pm happy hour (or eat anytime at the bar) to pick up a refreshing $6 shochu cocktail.
Pro tip: Get familiar Thai dishes elsewhere. This guide's co-editor found that most Thai food carts and corner restaurants in this town serve better versions of Paadee's inexcusably soggy, flavorless pad khee mao.
GO: 6 SE 28th Ave., 360-1453, paadeepdx.com. 11:30 am-3 pm, 5-10 pm daily. $$.