There’s something comforting about the idea of a neighborhood place. Even if it’s not in your neighborhood.
You know, that little corner-store kind of place that people nearby know about and that others seek out because they’ve heard such good things.
Vientiane Market, in a little corner building on Noyes Street in Portland, is such a place. Even before Portland was filled with outstanding Thai restaurants, people were seeking out Vientiane Market.
It looks cozy, for one thing. It’s got a big awning over the front window, old Pepsi signs and a brick facade. It’s just off Brighton Avenue, near side streets filled with neat, multi- and single-family homes.
The menu includes Thai standards like pad Thai, drunken noodle and various curries. The portions are huge, the prices inexpensive and the flavors fresh.
When I went for lunch on a recent weekday I got an order of pad see ew ($8.59). It was a flat noodle stir fry dish with scrambled egg, chicken, broccoli, mushroom and bok choy in a sweet Thai soy sauce. The portion was just about big enough for two lunches, though I ate more than half at my first sitting.
The noodles were wide and thick, almost like mini lasagna noodles. The sauce was not too sweet and let the flavor of the broccoli and bok choy shine through. It was a nice change from pad Thai, though I love a good pad Thai.
I also tried some Thai egg rolls ($3.99 for four). These were fresh from the fryer, and the crisp outer coating was almost like pastry. Inside, the shredded vegetables were a little spicy, but they went well with the sweet dipping sauce.
It was a warm day when I went, so I ventured a few blocks down Noyes Street toward Forest Avenue to sit in a little park that you probably wouldn’t know about unless you lived around there. It was the perfect spot to eat food from a true neighborhood place.
There are a few tables inside Vientiane, as well as shelves filled with various Asian grocery items.
The menu included five appetizers, a couple soups, noodle dishes, curries, about 10 main dishes and some chef’s specials.
The appetizers include fresh spring rolls, crab Rangoon, spicy chicken wings and chicken satay. The soups include a tom yum with spicy tamarind broth and tom kar with coconut broth. The main dishes are a mix of vegetables, sauces, nuts and spices and you can add tofu, chicken, beef or shrimp to each. They range from $7.89 to $8.89.
There are four kinds of curry dishes, including spicy red and green and yellow and massamon, both made with coconut milk.
Among the specials, I’d like to try to the laab gai, ground chicken with lemon juice, onion, scallions, lime leaves and ground, roasted rice over a bed of lettuce. Something called “Delight of Two” caught my eye as well. It features chicken and shrimp sauteed with minced garlic, mushroom, bok choy, carrots, snow peas, tomatoes and onions. Specials range in price from $8.89 to $10.99.
WHERE: 157 Noyes St., Portland. 774-7311, vientianemarket.net
HOURS: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday
WAIT: Ten minutes for a phone order.
PARKING: On street
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes