Khun Pic’s Bahn Thai
“How’d you hear about us?” Jon, Khun Pic’s co-owner, earnestly quizzed me. “We try to hide out here best we can.”
I laughed. He didn’t. I think he was dead serious. Certainly no one would accuse Khun Pic’s of overzealous marketing, on the contrary, they’ve tried to hide the gracious Victorian house that the restaurant resides in by growing a lush thicket of trees, vines, and thorny brambles over the entire building. Your greenery weary eyes won’t register it as anything more than yet another clump of Oregon shrubbery, albeit a strangely-shaped one fronted by a mysterious wrought-iron gate, sitting smack in the middle of the busiest commercial zone on SE Belmont Avenue.
Mary makes each dish to order from well-worn family recipes, using fresh ingredients and housemade sauces, and she sounds a sharp bell when dishes are finished. Heaven help Jon if he dawdles in picking them up.
Once inside, you’ll find a meticulously restored old Victorian home, with ornate mouldings and delicately patterned gilded ceilings. No two tablecloths are alike, the furniture is a pleasant hodge podge of antique wooden chairs and cabinets, and gaudy gold goddesses drape themselves across the mantel and watch over the front door and creaky black gate, which only unlocks for three scant hours Tuesday through Friday, three-and-a-half on Saturday.
Classical music plays softly as Jon calmly makes his way to and from the kitchen, bearing tall glasses of ice water, frosty bottles of Singha and elegant gold trays holding wide ceramic dishes filled with Som Tum (papaya salad), Pad Kee Mao (drunken noodles), Gang Kheo Wan (green curry), and slightly sloshing bowls of coconut soup that send curlicues of steam into the air. His wife Mary makes each dish to order from well-worn family recipes, using fresh ingredients and housemade sauces, and she sounds a sharp bell when dishes are finished. Heaven help Jon if he dawdles in picking them up, sit close enough to the kitchen and you’ll hear what I mean. The walls are thin.
Back in the kitchen the throaty burble of a deep fryer signals that your order of Po Pia Sod (fresh spring rolls) is nearly at hand. Crunchy batons of golden fried tofu hide among delicate vermicelli noodles, slivers of bright orange carrot, freshly cut romaine, and the surprising sweet crispness of paper thin apple slices, and the accompanying peanut sauce is fantastic–rich and beautifully balanced, served in a fluted ramekin with a simple sprinkling of crushed peanuts. The entire menu is one page and consists of 11 traditional but expertly executed dishes–starters like the above mentioned spring rolls and lightly battered and fried tofu, hot and sour Tom Ka soup and lime-kissed papaya salad, a vividly colored and brightly flavored Vegetable Garlic Chili Sauce Stir Fry, and a handful of rice and noodle dishes like Pad Thai, Pad Kee Mao, and Kow Pad.
Khun Pic’s is a unique dining experience in many ways, and I’d like to offer a few tips to help you get the most out of your visit. First, any impatient dining companions must be warned that this restaurant has one cook (Mary) and one server (Jon), and as the menu says, “If you have a fixed amount of time to spend with us, please ask your server for an honest estimate of the time required for preparing your dinner.” Invariably, the honest estimate will be too long for the impatient diner, so you may wish to sedate them before coming, or leave them home altogether. Choose your own table when you walk in, be prepared to wait to order and then wait to eat, don’t be shy about requesting your food spicy, bring cash because your credit’s no good here (exact cash, if you want to avoid the wait for change), and above all else–relax and enjoy this magical little place.
Executive Chef: Mary Ogard
Owner: Jon and Mary Ogard
Outdoor seating: Yes, there is a foliage-covered brick garden patio out in front of the restaurant that is open during fair weather
Best Seat: There isn't a bad seat in the house, but you'll have the most privacy if you sit along the west wall near the kitchen door
Noise Level: Hushed-Normal
Dress Code: Casual
Bring the Kids: Not unless they are very patient children
Bathrooms: Yes, the door is to the right of the kitchen door, blocked from the dining area by a wooden screen
Parking: Parking is free and relatively easy to find along SE Belmont and on the surrounding side streets
Beer: Singha $4, Domestic beer $4
Wine: House white or red wine $5/glass, wines by the bottle list available
Teetotalers: Pure Mango Nectar $3, Thai iced coffee & tea $3
Coffee: Thai iced coffee $3
Tea: Thai iced tea $3
Ideal Meal: Fresh spring rolls, coconut soup, papaya salad, drunken noodles, vegetable garlic chili sauce stir fry
Vegetarian Friendly: Yes
Good for the following occasions: Romantic Date, Neighborhood Eats, Family Meal
Reservations: Accepted for four or more people, call 503.235.1610