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Fearless Critic restaurant review
Casual restaurant

Mon–Thu 11:00am–9:00pm
Fri 11:00am–10:00pm
Sat noon–10:00pm
Sun noon–9:00pm

Features Date-friendly, outdoor dining
Bar Beer, wine, liquor
Credit cards Visa, MC, AmEx
Reservations Accepted


Northwest Portland
1310 NW 23rd Ave.
Portland, OR
(503) 222-7840
Tara Thai
A standard take on recognizable dishes made much more palatable by its homey digs

“Tara Thai” is probably one of the five most common Thai restaurant names in America. Considering that so much American Thai food consists of a standardized menu of dishes that seem to have been identically dumbed down by some central Thai-food-dumbing-down authority, which may work in conjunction with the FDA’s cook-meat-to-180-degrees terrorists, having such a common name doesn’t inspire confidence.

What does set Tara Thai apart is its absolutely charming renovated house, which sits on a leafy residential street. Cranberry-colored wall-to-wall carpeting, antiques, and vaguely Thai-looking artwork make this restaurant feel as if you’d just stepped into someone’s parlor for dinner. The walk upstairs to another dining room is eerie, as if you might accidentally walk in on someone napping in their bed. As you might expect, the staff is completely friendly and hospitable—one common feature of Thai restaurants that we’re thankful for. The wooden deck outside is a gorgeous place to sit in nice weather, shaded by a rambling oak.

But that’s where the distinctions end. The menu is full of the same, sugary, mundane standards that fill the menus of most Americanized Thai places; dishes that have a much more thrilling and complex basis in their native land, but have been distilled to their most obvious and intense components. Pad Thai, for example, is capable of an exquisite balance of salty dried shrimp, sour vinegar, spicy chilies, and sweet, pungent fish sauce. But here, as is so often done, the dish is already made too sweet, then defaced further by the overcooked, bland meat of your choice, relying on a squirt of lime to keep it from being cloying.

Instead, stick close to the Northern Thai/Lao specialties on this menu, like a citrusy, spicy larb whose ground pork is a little overdone, but whose flavors are much more complex and interesting than the curries offered here. Or som tam (green papaya salad), whose searing sour-spicy freshness makes it a staple in virtually all Thai households.

It’s difficult to call out Tara Thai on falling away from the integrity of true Thai recipes, because virtually everyone else is doing it. Of those, Thai Tara is no worse and no better. But Pok Pok has shown Portland that more is possible. When will the rest catch up?

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