Sivalaya Thai Restaurant

4806 SE Stark 230-2875

Even though I consider Southeast Portland to be played out, it does have its advantages. If you live in the heart, near Belmont or Hawthorne, you have a million places to walk, the bus takes five minutes to downtown, there are tons of good parks, and (here's my point) there are quite a few neighborhood restaurants.

And neighborhood restaurants are undoubtedly the greatest. The owners are usually on site, the food is prepared with integrity, and hell, it's easy to park. Sivalaya Thai is one such wonderful restaurant, out on 48th and Stark, hanging out all by itself. Their extensive menu has about 50 selections, and everything I've tried so far has been great. Even better is their focus on seafood dishes, including a couple of daily specials, which always include fresh-tasting, if not fresh, seafood. (Sidenote: My restaurant-nazi friend says Tuesdays and Fridays are the best days for eating seafood, because that's when it's usually delivered).

The Talay is a tasty dish, piled with shrimp, squid, and mussels, pungently flavored with lemongrass and basil leaves. The Green Curry with shrimp is another savory item. It has a salty sweetness, is not overly creamy, and has enough chili pepper to give you the hiccups, but not so much that your eyes water. All dishes can be chili peppered to order, from mild to extra hot--a setting I think very few people could handle. They also have a couple of curries that are made with pineapple; the Surprise Curry with pineapple, peach, orange, and peanut sauce, if the sweeter, fruity flavors are your bag. Plus, ten dollars is tops for an entrée, and lunch specials are $5.50. And they do take-out.

After dinner, the extra-sweet Thai Iced Tea and Coffee are good bets and, with your entrée, you get a subtle green tea ice cream courtesy of the house (ask for it, though, it doesn't say so on the menu).

On top of Sivalaya's great food, homey-but-nice atmosphere, and quiet location, a real attraction is the wacky owner. He's always there, talking extremely loud, and is very happy. He'll remember your face if you were in there last year--commonly exclaiming, "Long time no see," or "Welcome to Paradise!"

Because of the frequent interactions you'll have with the owner, this is not a restaurant for hashing out the State of the Union with your lover, giving your friend an intervention, or dumping someone on their ass. It is, however, a great place to go with someone you are forced to hang out with (but who bores the living crap out of you), or your parents ("Look, Mom, Portland is cute and fun and zany!")

And hey, even if you think you can't handle the in-your-face service, I'm telling you, you can. Actually, it's nice every once in a while to feel remembered and wanted in a restaurant, as opposed to a lot of places in Portland where the waitstaff make you feel high-maintenance for even requesting silverware.