26 October 2021
Calling out a restaurant as the best of any category is a tough call in Portland, as the variety and quality (especially in any Asian or regional Mexican cuisine) is vast and the sub-genres are intense, truly one of the ways we keep the region pushing boundaries. I might make a list of five or 10 “best” Thai restaurants, each with a lead in its sub-genre. But Eem, given its small menu and focus on ingredients and quality, could edge out its competitors.
We visited Eem (stands for Earl, Eric and Matt, the three food and drink talents behind the restaurant) shortly after the restaurant was awarded acclaim as one of the New York Times’ annual “favorite restaurants in the U.S.” — along with Coquine, a restaurant still on our list. We had long included Eem in our list of recommendations, as we knew everything touched by Matt Vicedomini (of Matt’s BBQ Tacos) would include that intense Texas-style barbecue and the kind of attention to detail that can yield perfect flavor combinations even on summery weekend days when Portland is flooded with foodies.
From the NYT: “If it had never occurred to anyone to combine the heady flavors of Thai curry and the burned ends of Texas brisket (and their drippings), be very happy that it has now occurred to Earl Ninsom and Matt Vicedomini… Their flavors together are a revelation.”
Combining the Texas style barbecue we already knew and loved with Thai flavors (thanks to Earl Ninsom), especially those of the oyster mushroom and cauliflower red curry and lamb massaman curry we tried the day of our visit, was indeed the fire we were expecting; the ease of takeout means we’ll likely be regular repeat visitors, especially for the simple and excellent sweet and sour fried chicken.
It wasn’t a good day for an alcoholic cocktail, so I went for one of Eric Nelson’s non-alcoholic choices, the oat milk Thai tea, which somehow managed to be a comforting choice on a chilly day. The California-origin IPA, the only choice on the day we visited, wasn’t a favorite; we’d have chosen a more Pacific Northwest-style IPA, but usually we recommend choosing a brewery or tap house if beer/food pairings are your thing. We’d go again and again to work through the cocktail menu.
So, best? I might be tempted to go so far. We’ll be tasting through some of our long-time favorites and other highly recommended Thai over the winter and follow up with an update when we get to springtime. In the meantime: it’s certainly worthy of our recommendations, and we won’t be skimpy here.
At the time of this writing — late October 2021 — EEM was still operating as a no reservations, first come, first served operation with only outdoor seating, 11 am to 9 pm seven days a week. We understand they may be adding back indoor seating soon.