The Beef Hao Soi at Mi Sen Noodle Bar in Portland is perfect for cool evenings. Staff Photo Meredith Goad

Now that the evenings are getting cooler, my cravings for Asian soups and noodle dishes have returned.

One recent evening I found myself thinking about the Beef Khao Soi at Mi Sen Noodle Bar, a place I would visit more frequently in normal times if the parking weren’t so limited. With CBG across the street and Mainely Noods in the same neighborhood, it can be tough at dinnertime to find a spot that’s not several blocks away – which is fine if you are eating indoors or have someone to mind the car while you run in to pick up your order. But if you’re a single diner, good luck grabbing takeout without it getting cold during your walk back to the car. Before life changed, I often found myself ordering my noodles from Mainely Noods, which offers delivery through the local delivery service 2DineIn, and it always arrived hot.

Then the pandemic happened. Mi Sen is now offering delivery through Grubhub, and it has a fast and efficient take-out system. I ordered take-out from their online menu on a recent Saturday night (you can also call in orders), and soon after received an emailed receipt from the restaurant. Eight minutes later, I got both a text and an email telling me when my order would be ready. (I think these messages should be flipped – first the wait time, then the receipt.)

When I arrived at the restaurant, Congress Street was busy – CBG was hopping with outdoor diners – but not as busy as pre-pandemic days. At first I didn’t see any parking spots, but just after I arrived someone pulled out of a spot across the street. When I entered Mi Sen, I turned to my right toward the dining room and immediately ran into the large metal rack the Chandpen family uses for takeout orders. Even though it was still early, lined up on the rack were several large, numbered paper bags with receipts stapled to them, waiting for pick-up.

The Crispy Garlic Chicken wasn’t as crispy as it could have been. Staff Photo by Meredith Goad

The masked young woman at the cash register several feet behind the rack asked my name and told me my order was bag No. 4. I grabbed it and went on my way. By the time I got back to my car, a couple of other spots had opened up, and one person had left their car in front of the restaurant, blinkers flashing, while they picked up their order. (I thought about doing that but didn’t want to risk an expensive ticket, even though the city is probably being more lenient about such things these days.)

My reward when I got home was Mi Sen’s house-made noodles and slow-cooked, incredibly tender beef in a creamy, medium-spiced curry sauce. Red onions, scallions, cilantro and pickled veg garnished the dish, and I squeezed a wedge of lime over the top, along with crunchy noodles that came in a separate container. I also ordered, as an appetizer, some of the restaurant’s popular crispy garlic chicken, which are kind of like Asian chicken fingers. But they did not hold up as well. The chicken wasn’t very crispy by the time I got it home, but it did have a strong, but not too strong, garlicky flavor.

As the autumn chill descends upon Maine, I have my eye on some of Mi Sen’s noodle soup entrees, all under $10, which leaves room in the budget for appetizers such as their chili-lime wings, steamed radish cakes, pork gyoza, or Thai fries (buttercup squash – one of my favorites – battered with red curry seasoning and served with red curry mayo and sweet chili sauce).

Mi Sen is one of those places Portland definitely wants to keep, so if you haven’t tried it yet, get a move on. And don’t worry about the parking.

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