Going to Tobi in Portland’s West End the other day felt a little bit like gaining entry to a secret club.
First, its location is sort of hidden, behind Yordprom Coffee on Congress Street. Second, it’s only open three hours a day, Tuesday through Saturday. And it only does takeout.
Something about the limited scope appealed to me. But it’s the food that will bring me back.
I was first impressed with the variety and creativity of the menu offerings, which the restaurant describes as Asian fusion. For dinner on a recent weeknight, my family shared several starters, including the Asian-style stuffed pork bun ($6), curry chicken puffs ($9 for two pieces) and pan-fried pork pot stickers ($9 for six).
The bun was fluffy and light with lots of moist pork filling. The pot stickers were not overly fried, just crisp enough and moist on the inside. But my family’s favorite was the curry chicken puffs, which were flaky and buttery like a great pie crust on the outside with mildly spiced chicken and potatoes inside.
We also shared a couple of entrees, which were both delightfully creative. One was Khua Kai ($15), featuring stir-fried flat rice noodles with scrambled egg, bean sprouts, baby bok choy, scallions and chicken (you can also choose tofu). The other was Kha Pow Kai ($16), a dish of stir-fried ground chicken with green beans, peppers, hot basil and a soft-boiled egg over riceberry, a kind of rice from Thailand. Both were great and just a little hot, spice wise, though I asked for both dishes to be only slightly spicy.
The full list of entrees includes some curry dishes with rice and other dishes with noodles. A couple I’d like to try in the future include the Panang curry, with beef, coconut milk, kaffir leaves and riceberry, as well as Pad Key Mao, with stir-fried flat noodles, asparagus, bamboo shoots, peppers, scallions and hot basil. The Tom Kha soup also sounds good, with chicken, mushrooms, onion and scallions in coconut chicken broth.
Tobi opened in June in the spot formerly occupied Figgy’s, which sold takeout fried chicken and comfort food. The name is a combination of the first names of co-owners Tom Yordprom and Bird Phunsawat. Yordprom is the owner of the coffee shop in front of Tobi that bears his name. He also owned Siam Grill on Fore Street from 2000-08, now the site of the Japanese restaurant Mami.
Tobi isn’t quite as hidden as I made it out to be. Though it is behind the coffee shop, it also has frontage on a side street, Walker Street. But it somehow is just more fun for me to think of it as a hidden place that only smart guys like me can find.
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