Restaurant Guide 2013: Sen Yai

3384 SE Division St., 236-3573,

[NOODLE ON] Sen Yai noodle house exists because of a coconut shortage. Andy Ricker originally planned to put a curry-centric restaurant in the former Kappaya space two blocks from his original Pok Pok restaurant, scrapping the plan when he failed to find a reliable source for coconut meat. No one who's had the supple namesake noodle at Sen Yai is in a position to complain. This bright blue-green building decorated with Thai cooking posters and soundtracked by Thai pop music makes good use of them in phat sii ew ($11), a dish that's a lot like familiar drunken noodles, wok-fried to a slight char with small pieces of pork and sliced Chinese broccoli stalks and tops. My dining companion was similarly impressed with ba mii tom yam muu haeng ($12.50), wheat noodles served with broth on the side and topped with crumbled pork, dry pork medallions, chili vinegar and long beans that she compared to the newly departed Wafu's much-missed abura soba. A pair of rice dishes includes another standout, kai kaphrao khai dao ($12.50), fried bits of minced chicken and long beans flavored with onion, basil and soy sauce served alongside a big pile of jasmine rice and the runny yolk of a fried egg to glue it together. Sen Yai's breakfast menu is its biggest revelation, though. Soup is breakfast in much of Southeast Asia, which is why Portland's best pho shops open by 9 am. Ricker offers three bowls, along with toast, custard, runny eggs and a steamed pork bun. Thankfully Ricker found enough coconuts for the sangkhaya ($4 with toast), a rich coconut custard flavored with the pandan leaf that makes Pok Pok's drinking water so great. I'd gladly buy a bucket of it to dip thick, lightly toasted slabs of rich white bread from An Xuyen Bakery.

Ideal meal: Phat sii ew ($11) and kai kaphrao khai dao ($12.50) to share.

Best deal: Crowds tend to be very light for breakfast. You can stop in for a quick meal of toast with custard and a super sweet Thai coffee for only $8.

Pro tip: Several dishes use MaMa brand instant noodles available for 40 cents at Asian grocery stores. Avoid them.

8 am-10 pm daily. $$.


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