Since the dawn of the new millennium, Sweet Basil Thai has been a reliable supplier of Southern Thai house curries, crab Rangoon, and pad Thai from a converted house on Northeast Broadway.
But after a trip home to Northern Thailand last summer, owners Supree (Boos) Smithynuntha and his wife Rasamee (Amy) have quietly made over the downstairs of Sweet Basil into a Northern Thai bar with an insanely cheap and delicious happy hour and the best khao soi I’ve had since visiting Chiang Mai. As of right now, criminally few people are eating there.
Boos explains that Amy comes from Chiang Mai, and when he fell in love with her, he also fell in love with the region’s food. He says he likes it enough to eat every day, and wanted to share the cuisine with Portland.
Happy hour is from 5 to 7 pm daily, and includes deals like a quarter gai tod (spelled on their menu as kai todd) fried chicken with sticky rice and curry sauce for $8. It’s marinated to stay juicy, with a puffy coating that stays crisp even after a curry sauce dunk. Don’t sleep on the moo ping ($6.75), two grilled skewers of pork with an addictive, spicy, Northeastern Thai-style lime dipping sauce that you’ll pour on other items at will.
The happy hour menu also provides a deep discount on the kaeng hang le ($9.50 happy hour/$13 regular), a deeply savory Chiang Mai curry of slow-cooked beef with eggplant cooked right and other veggies. The happy hour also has plenty of Thai greatest hits, like a big plate of pad Thai for $8.50 and four Oh My God rolls for $3.75—they’re like taquitos with crab and cream cheese inside, and are so damn unhealthy and good.
But the best plan is to mix-and-match with the regular menu, where entrees range from about $12 to $18. Chiang Mai may be best known for its khao soi and its sai aua sausages, and both here are excellent examples: khao soi ($12), a curry stew heaped with egg noodles and goodies like pickled cabbage, shallots, chicken, and signature crispy noodles on top, is massive and aggressively slurpable. Khao soi is wildly comforting and somehow familiar (I’ll take it over tom kha any day), and yet isn’t on as many menus as other Thai soups around town. Made at Kinn Kao with a housemade yellow curry and customized to one’s preference with chili paste, it’s funky and not too viscous or sweet, like a few other versions I’ve had.
The sai aua ($9.75 alone or $15 in a combo plate with pork rinds and rice) are a faithful take on the regional standard—lemongrass, curry powder, and other aromatics are ground together with pork to create a complex and less fatty sausage that couldn’t be further from a Jimmy Dean link. There are also gems like a deep fried marinated pork belly combo ($12), Isaan-style larb ($12), and my favorite Thai salad, nam kao ($12), which involves breaking up sweet and citrusy deep fried rice balls with sausage over greens.
Wash it all down with a Thai whiskey and soda for $5.50 during those happy hours and maybe some mango sticky rice for dessert, if you have room. Which you probably won’t. But do it anyway.