6. Sen Yai
Pok Pok superstar Andy Ricker tangles with Asian noodles and Thai breakfast.
They are authenticity geeks, Asian families, and traveling fanatics seeking a Portland food high. Their ranks are small but devoted. Every morning they gather at Sen Yai for a taste of something rare and authentic: Thai breakfast.
Andy Ricker, the mastermind behind Pok Pok, could be cloning fish-sauce-wing joints from here to eternity. Instead, he’s taking a chance on breakfast in a city fixated on chicken and waffles served in mammoth portions.
Sen Yai (Thai for “big noodle”) looks like a burger drive-in reborn as a Bangkok cafeteria. But instead of carhops, servers armed with Thai coffee and coddled eggs zip around a parking lot of picnic tables, yellow umbrellas, and the smokiest crushed Thai chiles this side of Chiang Mai. Inside, speakers broadcast the organ-happy singsong of Asian pop, but everyone is focused on the perfumes leaking from big bowls of jok, which is like Thai cream of rice but deep with ginger, scallions, and umami juju beneath a cloud of fried noodles. There’s enough steam to give you a facial. Zap it with white pepper and a little soy—or perhaps crushed chiles in vinegar. If you’re really flying, nab a side of patangko—unsweetened doughnuts for your dunking pleasure.
3384 SE Division St
By 11 a.m., Sen Yai shape-shifts to its true mission: a meticulously authentic Thai noodle house that cranks day and night. Not everything hits that magic sweet spot—the crash of herbs, textures, and addictive flavors that Ricker can tap so well. But the menu is brave, uncompromising, and stocked with finds built around soup noodles, wok-fried noodles, and phat Thai, five different ways. I’d return just for sweet-and-sour yen ta fo soup, or the wildly charred kuaytiaw khua kai noodles. But I’m a fool for that breakfast—it tastes like a revelation.