pad thai at tarad in portland oregon
"Old School" Pad Thai

It isn’t easy establishing a Thai restaurant in this town. Beyond the hundreds of Thai/Laotian/Cambodian eateries, lies Andy Ricker’s world-renown Pok Pok empire. But Tarad (“market” in Thai, pronounced tahlad) takes a different approach: a tight menu of uncompromising Northern Thai favorites, a ragtag Asian market for food lovers, and blessedly late-night hours in a city that shuts down at 10pm.

For adventurous home cooks looking to break into the world of Thai flavors, owner Earl Ninsom (Mee-Sen, PaaDee) has created a one-stop shop for the basics. No more hauling out to 82nd street for shrimp paste or Chinese broccoli. Fish sauce, fresh greens and cookbooks line the rough, reclaimed walls (grab a copy of David Thompson’s Thai bible, Thai Food). Ninsom also stocks an odd assortment of Southeast Asian pharmaceuticals, from Parrot-brand bar soap to tin boxes of “Prickly Heat Powder,” just in case.

Through a tiny slat on the back wall, Chiang Mai native Ning Purnabimba cooks from a repertoire of 20 or so dishes. Pad thai, loaded with preserved radishes, fuchsia-hued dried shrimp and springy, caramelized noodles, is one of the city’s best, while the khao soi gai belongs in its own league. Under a bramble of crispy egg noodles, deeply spiced chicken thigh falls off the bone into a fiery curry coconut broth. Beyond the classics, pork-heavy Northern Thai specialties such as nam prik ong (we’ve got the recipe right here) take center stage, a thick Bolognese-y relish pounded with chiles, garlic, pork, thickened with tomatoes, and served alongside fresh vegetables for dipping. The menu is never static, with rotating inspirations ranging from glistening orbs of jackfruit med kanoon to tiny “curry puff” hand-pie pastries.

At 1 am, chile pastes are still being ground into potent soups and egg noodles fried to pliant crisps. When most of the city has shut down, a table at Tarad is the brightest star in SE Morrison’s debaucherous constellation of bars and dance clubs.

Tarad Thai Market
601 SE Morrison St
(503) 234-4102
Mon-Thurs, 11am-3pm, 4:30-9:30pm
Friday, 11am-3pm, 4:30-1:30am
Sat, 12pm-1:30am

For more on Portland’s food and drink scene, sign up for our weekly Eat Beat newsletter, subscribe to our RSS Feed, and follow us on Twitter @allisonejones, @karenbrookspdx, and @btepler.