Given the long, eclectic string of boutiques and eateries lining NW 23rd Avenue, it’s easy to file past the storefronts as though they were just windows on a train. But the new Red Onion Thai Cuisine is well worth a stop. Thai restaurants feel like Starbucks here in Portland—there seems to be one on every corner. But Red Onion chef Dang Boonyakamol’s cooking will take your tired taste buds by surprise. Formerly the owner of Dang’s Thai Kitchen in Lake Oswego, Boonyakamol serves up his native Chiang Mai cuisine at this modest Nob Hill nook. So while you’ll find Thai standards on the menu, like chicken satay and pineapple-fried rice, you’ll also encounter rarer regional dishes such as po pia sod ($8)—Chinese sausage, shrimp, and egg, all wrapped in rice paper and topped with shredded Dungeness crab—or stir-fried green curry beef ($12) accented with a gingery rhizome root, kaffir lime, and crispy fried basil leaves.
The monthly specials list features succulent novelties like deep-fried calamari tubes stuffed with pork and shrimp, and a striking rib-eye salad. Piled high with bright tomatoes and mint leaves and drizzled in a spicy lime-juice dressing, it’s just one of the many dishes designed to seduce you away from pad Thai. Best of all, Red Onion’s entrées are more likely to bust your shirt buttons than your pocketbook—which means you can afford to choose the adventurous route. —Kaitlyn Evans