I am fortunate enough to live in the same town as my favorite restaurant. In all my travels, nothing has beat the atmosphere and culinary combination that Khun Pic’s Bahn Thai offers in SE Portland. The first part of the experience is the adventure of finding Khun Pic’s. Nestled behind an ivy covered garden gate, the restaurant is actually inside of an old house. The second part is walking in. If its warm out (which is rare in Portland) most seating will be out front on the garden patio. However, most of the year you will be seated indoors.
Upon entering Khun Pics you are instantly taken aback at the beauty. Ornate Victorian wall paper, moldings and chandeliers are complimented with Thai antique furniture, art, and decor. Your mouth immediately salivates as you get a whiff of what other diners have already been served. The entrance is small and if there is another group waiting, then figuring out where to stand is awkward. Later than sooner, John the husband of the dynamic couple that own Khun Pic’s, will burst from the kitchen with a kind but stressed look and will seat you. John does all the greeting, serving, and bussing of tables while his wife Khun Pic, or more commonly known by her assimilated name Mary, prepares every dish from scratch by hand using her family’s recipes. While this team produces excellence, it comes at a cost. The wait for food can be long (30 min – 1 hour on average) but anyone who has been there before will tell you it well worth it. The menu is simple, offering a few choices. I recommend the fresh spring rolls comprised of apple, carrot, mint, fried tofu and bean threads along with Tom Kha Soup with Prawns for an appetizer. One order of each is more than plenty for two people. The entrees are usual Thai staples; Pad Thai, Red & Green Curries, Ginger Stir Fry and usually one special dish per night. More devoted than any religious zealot, I always choose the Pad Thai and John always remembers my order. All dishes begin as vegetarian dishes and you can add chicken or prawns for a few dollars more.
One your order is placed, the waiting begins. Former diners will warn you not to go hungry, stopping for happy hour before is a great suggestion. Also, if you are on a time constraint this would not be a good option. Khun Pic’s is an ideal restaurant to impress a date or bring a few close friends. If dining alone I recommend bringing a book. The tables are elegantly set with antique lace cloths, mix-matched antique China plates and decorative flatware. Even the dinner napkins are vintage linens. John brings out glasses and a pitcher of water along with any other drinks ordered. He is sure to make quick small talk and give an update on the expected wait time.
The moment of glory arrives! The food is here! Each appetizer will be perfectly spaced to give you just enough time to finish one before the next comes out. Mary makes the peanut sauce herself and it is even sold in a few local stores. It is delicious enough to eat by the spoonful and many have done just that. Each dish is made from fresh ingredients hand picked by Mary that afternoon. Khun Pic’s is only open for dinner service which makes it easier to provide quality dishes consistently. Most dishes come with rice and one entree is plenty for two people. You can choose your own level of spiciness and the highest level is definitely hot enough to make you cry buckets. Mary’s Pad Thai has ruined me for any other Pad Thai. The noodles are perfectly tender with plenty of fresh bean sprouts on the side. Each chicken bite is well seasoned and tender, clearly only the best parts are selected. You and whoever you might be dining with will spend the next ten minutes raving over your meals to each other.
John will pack up any leftovers for you. I love having Khun Pic’s for lunch at work the next day! Weekends are much busier than weekdays, so don’t be surprised if two adorable young teens come out to clear your table, as John & Mary’s children help out when things get hectic for their dad. Your check will be accompanied by some strange Thai candy, usually lychee or tamarind flavor. I don’t usually eat these, but instead save them to give some child so I can watch the look on their face as they discover a new taste.
If you live in or ever visit Portland, make some room in your itinerary for Khun Pic’s Bahn Thai. It will change your food life.