Halo Thai
1625 NE Alberta

After years of wolfing down Thai food in Portland I've learned a couple things. Number One: Order what you know--very rarely will you find yourself dazzled by some wacky menu specialty. Number Two: If you want to be dazzled by some wacky menu specialty, you should go to a higher-end Thai restaurant like Lemongrass, Khun Pic's Bahn Thai, or Typhoon. And while I'd like to say that Halo is the exception--providing amazingly inventive Thai food for a cheap price--I can't.

Instead I'll say Halo Thai does well with the basics. The salad rolls were artistically presented with an eruption of vegetables coming out the top, and served with a brilliant, addictively rich peanut sauce. The combination plate appetizer had a few standouts, like the airy, pleasantly oily deep-fried shrimp toast and the crispy spring rolls. The wontons, though, didn't seem to be stuffed with anything, and the chicken sate skewers--while somewhat bland--were acceptable.

On the entrée side, Halo's Panang Curry was delicious, made with a tasty, creamy coconut milk sauce, firm pieces of tofu, and a generous helping of vegetables. The more unusual Jungle Curry, however, wasn't as successful. When I ordered it, the server warned me that it would be more of a soup than a stew, which was fine, but what I didn't know was that the broth would be made with a bucket of fish sauce. The taste was overwhelmingly pungent and unbearably salty, tasting almost exactly like the Tom Yum soup one of my tablemates ordered.

The Pad Thai, on the other hand, was tangy, greaseless and peppered with peanuts like good Pad Thai should be. Likewise, the Evil Prince noodles, made with red curry, vegetables, and coconut milk, were a competent melding of Thai flavors, beautifully presented in a pile decorated with veggies. Beyond the noodles, curries, and a number of salads, Halo has a list of deep-fried chicken and fish items, and several meat, veggie, and rice combos all for around $8-10 ($5-8 at lunch)--not much different than most Thai menus you'll see around town.

While Halo does some things well, I can't quite figure why this place has popped up right down the street from one of the best Thai spots in town--Thai Noon. I suppose Halo represents more typical Thai while Thai Noon incorporates more fresh veggies in their noodles, makes odd dishes like stuffed chicken wings, and has a list of specialty alcoholic beverages (they're what could be jerkily dubbed "Yuppie Thai")--but doesn't that make them even harder to beat? Perhaps Alberta can support two Thai restaurants--but it seems like the neighborhood may be getting ahead of itself in the name of progress.

Regardless, try Halo Thai for a tasty Mussaman or Green Curry, a plate of spicy, basil-laced Pad Kee Mao noodles, a broccoli or green bean lover's special, or a few, rich, cream cheese stuffed crab puffs. It's not a bad place to eat and the servers are attentive and friendly. But it needs more if it's going to take on the competition.