The kitchen inside the restaurant was set up to look like a Thai street side food stand.

The kitchen inside the restaurant was set up to look like a Thai street side food stand.

PORTLAND, Ore.
UPDATE: Andy Ricker announced he will close this restaurant on May 8, 2016 as the numbers never really added up.

The story: James Beard Award-winning Chef/Owner Andy Ricker has revolutionized Thai cuisine in the Northwest (and now New York) through his extremely popular Pok Pok restaurant in Portland, which spawned a second location and a whisky lounge. Last year, he opened Sen Yai (which means “big noodles”) to serve up Thai noodles dishes like those he ate at street stands in Thailand.

Why I went: While in Portland for Feast Portland, I wanted to try a Ricker restaurant, but of course the crowds were crazy at his original Pok Pok with out-of-towners like me wanting a taste. But I had read about his noodle shop, and I thought it would be a nice casual spot when my sister and I were looking for lunch.

The vibe: Brightly colored prints sub for the neon of Bangkok, and Sen Yai attracts a mixed crowd but luckily not as packed as its older sibling. Since we were having beautiful weather in Portland, we decided to sit at the outdoor patio, beaming in yellow tones from the plastic table covering and umbrellas.

Phat Thai Muu Sap ($11) with ground pork, fried egg, dried tofu, dried shrimp, bean sprouts and garlic chives. The dipping sauce makes the dish.

Phat Thai Muu Sap ($11) with ground pork, fried egg, dried tofu, dried shrimp, bean sprouts and garlic chives. The dipping sauce makes the dish.

The menu: All kinds of noodles, with Ricker explaining how he discovered certain dishes (most popular for lunch in Thailand or had tried making this dish more than 50 times). While Sen Yai is known for the kuaytiaw naam, the popular Thai lunch soup noodle dishes, we felt it was too warm for soup noodles. So we ordered a couple of stir-fried noodle dishes and a rice dish.

The booze: Several Thai beer to choose from, including wine. There’s also some specialty cocktails like Tamarind Whisky Sour and Pok Pok Bloody Mary. I ended up trying one of the Thai beer called Beer Chang ($5.50).

My favorite dish: I’m also a fan of the lighter rice noodles (or rice vermicelli) and Sen Yai’s Phat Thai has that same texture. We ordered the regular Phat Thai Muu Sap ($11) made with ground pork with dried tofu, dried shrimp, egg, been sprouts and garlic chives. What made the dish was the accompanying chili sauce that added a lot of flavor and heat (but not super hot).

Insider tip: Sen Yai can adjust the heat by either not giving you any or giving you all (there’s no in-between). My sister asked for our dishes to be mild, but it really tasted like no heat. And the one dish (Kai/Muu Kaphrao Khai Dao), which is a minced meat dish with rice, could only come in one heat but it wasn’t that spicy. So my guess is you could probably try the heat and should be OK.

The last bite: Sen Yai introduces a lot of different Thai noodle and rice dishes to the American eating public, and while not strong in flavor, they’re satisfying dishes that often come without a very long wait.

The rating: 2.5 out of 4 camera snaps

2.5snaps

 

 

The deets: Sen Yai, 3384 SE Division St., Portland, Ore. PH: 503.236.3573. Open weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m.; weekends, 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. www.pokpoksenyai.com

Sen Yai on Urbanspoon

Sen Yai is Thai cuisine guru Andy Ricker's noodle shop in Portland's Division area.

Sen Yai is Thai cuisine guru Andy Ricker’s noodle shop in Portland’s Division area.

Phat Sii Ew ($11) is wide rice noodles with pork, Chinese broccoli, egg and black soy sauce. It tasted a lot like a Chinese chow fun dish.

Phat Sii Ew ($11) is wide rice noodles with pork, Chinese broccoli, egg and black soy sauce. It tasted a lot like a Chinese chow fun dish.

The outdoor patio is quite large and really gives the street food experience of Thailand.

The outdoor patio is quite large and really gives the street food experience of Thailand.

Kai/Muu Kaphrao Khai Dao ($12) is minced chicken stir fried with long beans and basil with onion. It's considered one of the most popular Thai lunch dish. My sister tried to break open the egg thinking the yolk would ooze out but it was more on the done side.

Kai/Muu Kaphrao Khai Dao ($12) is minced chicken stir fried with long beans and basil with onion. It’s considered one of the most popular Thai lunch dish. My sister tried to break open the egg thinking the yolk would ooze out but it was more on the done side.

Walking back to the car, we passed Ricker's popular Pok Pok, which still had a crowd waiting around 1:30 p.m. on a Friday.

Walking back to the car, we passed Ricker’s popular Pok Pok, which still had a crowd waiting around 1:30 p.m. on a Friday.

 

3 Responses to A Review of Andy Ricker’s Sen Yai Noodle Stand in Portland

  1. foodhoe says:

    I love thai noodles which are usually so sweet I wouldn’t think of comparing them to Chinese… only 2.5 snaps? So this spot didn’t revolutionize your view of Thai food I take it!

    • Ben Ben says:

      I don’t think I’ve ever had sweet Thai noodles? These aren’t sweet at all. They were good, but maybe there’s a reason Pok Pok is always so crowded. Maybe I really should try his original spot. Next time! (If I can get in)

  2. Carolyn Jung says:

    I loved his food at the former Ping in Portland. Crave-able flavors that really speak of Thailand.