Major landmarks on outer Congress Street, across I-295 from downtown Portland, include a Dunkin’, a couple of gas stations, and a shopping plaza with a CVS and a Shaw’s. Next door to Eddie’s Nails, Mitr Ping Yang Thai Kitchen opened late last year, in a former IT shop that’s been renovated beyond recognizability. Now, shamrock-green walls are adorned with picture-frame molding and cheeky pop-art portraits of Thai film star Mitr Chaibancha and the first Thai Miss Universe, Apasra Hongsakula, and an illustration of a smiling Thai character fighting a giant blue lobster. It feels like a transplant from a trendier neighborhood, and in some sense it is.
From left: Owners Pattira Tedford, Darit Chandpen, and Wan Pitafai; the dining room juxtaposes verdant-green walls with playful art.
Mitr’s owners are Wan Pitafai, Darit Chandpen, and Pattira Tedford. Pitafai and Chandpen, who are married, co-owned Cheevitdee, an Old Port restaurant that specialized in healthful Thai food and fell victim to the pandemic; Tedford was the manager there. At Mitr (pronounced “mitt”), the trio retained some of Cheevitdee’s veggie-forward approach, with an added focus on ping yang, grilled dishes akin to Japanese yakitori. Overall, they wanted to focus on Thai street foods and on dishes less well-known to American audiences. “We feel like every Thai restaurant around here has almost the same menu,” Pitafai says. “But there are other Thai dishes that are really interesting and flavorful that people would love.”
Mitr is Thai for “friend.” Ping yang is grilled street food, often accompanied by sauces.
The concise list comprises wine, Thai beer, and canned cocktails.
Bright flavors and artful presentations run throughout the menu. The fresh rolls, a staple at Thai restaurants everywhere, consist of tofu, raw veggies, basil, and, unexpectedly, sauteed mushrooms, all wrapped in delicate rice paper and served with a creamy mayo-garlic-lime dipping sauce in place of the typical orange-hued, sweet-sour sauce laced with peanuts. The garlic-lime and five other house-made sauces can be ordered as a flight, for sampling throughout a meal, and the Jaew, made with lime, fish sauce, toasted rice powder, onion, red-pepper flakes, and cilantro particularly stands out. Spicy and tart, it nicely complements grilled-meat skewers — options include marinated beef, chicken, pork, and cuttlefish tentacles.
The menu is intentionally small — the owners say they want to focus on quality over quantity. There’s sirloin, grilled to medium-rare and accompanied by ginger-and-garlic-infused rice. There’s salmon, with basil and chili paste, wrapped inside a banana leaf and grilled. Some familiar favorites make appearances too, from red curry to cashew stir-fry to a delightfully sour and slightly sweet pad thai. The latter’s sauce of tamarind juice mixed with a little palm sugar drapes glossily over thin rice noodles cooked to the perfect midpoint between soft and chewy.
On weeknights, takeout business is brisk, and it’s usually easy to walk in and grab a table (takeout tip: the fresh rolls and papaya salad are best enjoyed in-house, as the rice-paper wrappings and fruit tend to dry out during transport). On weekends, reservations are a necessity. Also a necessity is the chilled coconut-chiffon cake, filled with a vein of “lava” sauce made from a puree of tender, young coconut and crowned with swirls of whipped cream. Such coconut cakes, though popular throughout Thailand, rarely show up around here. “Learn a little more about Thai food and Thai culture from us,” Pitafai says. “That would be our goal.”
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