Five to Try at Sen Yai

Highlights from Andy Ricker's new Thai noodle house, from donuts dipped in coconut custard to crave-worthy pad Thai.

By Rachel Ritchie September 3, 2013 Published in the September 2013 issue of Portland Monthly

Phat Thai with tofu at Sen Yai

Image: Allison Jones

With Sen Yai (“big noodle”), Southeast Asian flavor savant Andy Ricker has taken the third leap in his march down SE Division Street, filling another formerly quiet corner of the construction-laden corridor with the smells, sounds, and sights of Thailand. The erstwhile home of Kappaya is now draped with colorful lights, with Thai pop music blaring from 8 am to 10 pm. Inside, an open kitchen abuts a super-casual dining room housing souvenirs from Ricker’s ongoing Bangkok sojourns; outside, umbrella-capped picnic tables are prime perches for sipping a salted-plum vodka collins while watching lines form across the street at Ava Gene’s and Salt & Straw.

The Thai breakfast is a find, and the combined lunch-dinner list is built around an expansive repertoire of noodle dishes, from soups to dry to stir-fried. Remember to dip into the table condiments, as is Thai custom, or find yourself lamenting bland dishes. We’ve developed some budding obsessions:

Kuaytiaw Reua “Boat Noodles” ($12)

A cult Thai soup, with thin or wide rice noodles submerged in a complex broth of deep comfort holding stewed beef, poached beef, house-made meatballs, water spinach, and plenty of dried chiles and herbs

Phat Sii Ew ($11)

A classic recipe “studiously lifted” from a Chiang Mai restaurant: chewy, wok-charred, fat rice noodles tangle with tender pork, Chinese broccoli, scrambled egg, and a backbeat of black soy sauce.

Kai Kaphrao khai Dao ($12.50)

A fiery, flavor-packed pile of chicken, long beans, and Thai basil stir-fried with black soy, dried chiles, and fish sauce, served alongside jasmine rice and draped with a slightly runny fried egg

Patangko with Sangkhaya ($5) 

For breakfast, unsweetened “Chinese donuts” for dipping in a luscious coconut custard flavored with the sweet, palmlike pandan leaf (which Ricker also uses to flavor the drinking water his original Division Street den, Pok Pok) 

Phat Thai Thamadaa ($9)

Until now, we’ve had to wait until after 10 pm at Whiskey Soda Lounge for Ricker’s pad Thai. Here, it’s available from 11 am, fresh and light, with your pick of pork, prawns, or best, wrapped in a omelet.

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