Mekhong Thai has stood its ground for almost a decade, serving Thai dishes that rely on some tasty basics to please, like crunchy coatings and sweet and cream, aromatic sauces. Revved up with some hot spice, which transforms the sauces into something more sophisticated, dinner at Mekhong Thai has an appetizing allure that makes me a little uneasy.

I mean that with all the crunch and coconut cream, it can be hard to taste the other ingredients in a dish, or at least to taste them clearly.

But if this is how a lot of ethnic cooking starts out in America — masking flavors with sugar and some kind of oil or cream — it isn’t how it ends.

On a quiet, chilly fall weekend night, when we were in the mood for curry, the choo-chee curry and the green curry were both spicy and sweet, creamy and aromatic, and crispy duck was an astonishing trove of golden-brown, crunchy skin.

Niwas Intharakunha, a co-owner of three Mekhong Thai restaurants with Tony Nguyen, started the business at the Forest Avenue restaurant in 2002. She and her partner now own two other Mekhong Thai restaurants, one in Wells and another in Kennebunk.

Although she said none of her recipes have changed in the last eight years, she and her partner have added dishes to the menu.


“We added pho. My partner is Vietnamese — he cooked Thai food for fifteen years, but now we added pho because it’s very popular. We added Peking Duck,” said Intharakunha. The pho, which sells well, is a noodle soup with long-cooked stock made with beef bones or chicken, with fire-star spice, galangal, orange rind and Vietnamese herbs.

One longtime fan extols the Mekhong Thai fried rice, which she requested made without sugar, one solution to the conundrum of masked meals. It became her regular takeout order with its astounding list of chicken, pork, beef, shrimp, egg, onion, carrots, broccoli, string beans, tomatoes, pineapple and scallion.

Perhaps because of its long history in Portland, Mekhong Thai has incorporated a few Maine touches in its d?r, with a camp lamp made of wrought iron in one corner decorated with pine cones, and another lamp featuring a bear eating a fish. That motif is likely from the north Pacific, but there must once have been a time when Maine bears ate salmon too, maybe a century ago.

A ceiling painted with swirls and the brown wood floor give the upper dining room a warm atmosphere. This casual restaurant feels like a welcoming home.

Alamos Torrontes ($5) is crisp and good, and so cheap. The typical floral nose wasn’t pronounced, but the acidity and sugar matched up and went well with spring rolls and dumplings. The wine and beer selection is modest, with another Alamos red and Thai Singha beer, Kirin and Sapporo Beer from Japan and Geary’s for a local beer along with mainstream American beers like Budweiser.

Spinach dumplings ($5.95) were a special, made with a thick, chewy wrapper tinged green with spinach — inside was chopped cabbage and juicy vermicelli tasting of ginger.


Chicken spring rolls ($4.95) kept bursting open as we tried to eat a section in several bites, but aside from our awkwardness getting them in our mouths, were crunchy with chopped lettuce, cucumber, cilantro and scallion, savory with sliced chicken, and perfectly matched up with chopped peanut and a sweet, clear dipping sauce.

The menu offers Thai noodle dishes, stir fries and fish in spicy tamarind sauce, but the specials board caught my appetite first.

Duck choo-chee ($15.95) is made with a kind of curry paste that one website said is usually served with fried mackerel — a great idea to remember when the mackerel return in the spring. In Mekhong Thai’s special, “fresh kaffir lime leaf is chopped fine and sprinkled on top of the duck before you put on the sauce,” said Intharakunha, and it gives the dish a special complexity.

Even though sweet, this spicy, creamy sauce is delectable, and covering crunchy fried duck, it appealed to my love affair with fat. Crunchy carrot and peppers and earthy cilantro gave more textural and aromatic variety to the dish.

Green curry with fried tofu ($11.95) put together juicy tender cubes of tofu with just the right amount of spice — though it was a little too much for my young companion. Vegetal and hot, the green beans and white rice cooled the dish down, while each mouthful of sauce heated it right back up.

Dessert is fried ice cream — and we didn’t want it. But certainly there will be another chance soon to try another curry or check out the pho or a classic noodle dish like Pad Khee Mao.


N.L. English is a Portland freelance writer and the author of “Chow Maine: The Best Restaurants, Cafes, Lobster Shacks and Markets on the Coast.” Visit English’s website,


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.