Since it opened this past November, I’ve been pronouncing Dok Mali incorrectly. It took a few visits to India Street before I discovered that the last word in the name of this 32-seat Thai joint does not, in fact, sound like “Molly,” as in Hatchet or Ringwald.

As one front-of-house staffer gently corrected me, “It means ‘jasmine,’ and it’s not pronounced like the African country,” she said with a laugh. “I always just tell people it sort of rhymes with ‘poke Marie’.” Apologies to all the Maries out there, but it’s a good little mnemonic that you’ll want to store away if you’re a Portlander who enjoys comfort food and vivid spice.

A sister restaurant to Exeter, New Hampshire’s Capital Thai Kitchen & Bar, Dok Mali moved into the awkward retail space left behind by Lois’s Natural Marketplace, collapsing disjointed rooms into a contemporary space united by tendrils of greenery and pale-stained, sound-dampening slats, all part of a major design overhaul from architect Tracie Reed at Dextrous Creative. Just don’t let impressive visuals distract you at Dok Mali – not even local artist Lan “LB” Bao’s stunning floral mural.

On the cocktail and food menu alike, you’ll find dishes that make a stunt of their outrageous hues: an onyx-shaded “Midnight” margarita dyed with squid ink ($15), or pea-flower-tinted, chicken-filled Blossom dumplings ($13) whose off-putting color (especially as they cool) might remind you why humans don’t eat a lot of blueish-gray food. Neither menu item is terrible, but skip past them to more naturally flamboyant dishes.

Like Yum Salmon ($18), an herbal salad of red pepper, pear, onion and flaky shards of salmon tossed with peppery watercress and a few mint leaves. On the plate, it’s bold and cheery, but on the fork, this salad exhilarates with aromatic lemongrass and capsaicin.

Bunna Chhloeum, the front of house manager at Dok Mali, chats with a customer at the bar earlier this month. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Vibrant Som Tam ($15), the classic green papaya salad, is also great at Dok Mali, especially the extra-funky Laotian version powered by amped-up umami from fermented fish sauce and shrimp paste. And if you are in the mood for dumplings but don’t want them blue, Dok Mali makes eight varieties, the best of which are the crisp, deep-fried chive ($10), ground chicken kanom jeeb ($11) and pan-fried pork-and-zucchini-filled gyoza-like parcels ($12). At $24, the dumpling sampler also makes a terrific appetizer choice for group of four diners, and if you add in a few of the wonderful grill-charred okra skewers ($8), all the better.


On my most recent visit to Dok Mali, I saw several tables ordering nothing but dumplings and Thai salads along with cocktails. Not a bad option, especially as the weather warms up. But to miss out on owner Nonglack Thanephonesy’s take on street-food noodle dishes is to miss out on one of Dok Mali’s biggest strengths.

Among the wide-noodle dishes, Pad See Ew ($20) is the menu’s clear standout, with plenty of high-heat, wok-seared flavor that permeates Chinese broccoli stems and soy-dappled rice noodles. Drunken noodles ($19) share much of the same broad sturdy pasta, but lose some of their spark under too-sweet sauce and torn basil.

Beatrice Ramos and Chris Ramos have dinner together at Dok Mali earlier this month. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Both versions of pad thai I tasted — traditional with tofu ($19) and Mali pad thai with shrimp, chicken and a stronger sauce that radiates umami ($23) – were among the best I’ve tasted in Maine, and as much as I enjoy leftovers, I appreciated the appropriately human-sized portions of these plates. Both pad thais (or should that be pads thai?) also travel well as takeout dishes.

“I eat the Mali pad thai pretty much every day I work, and sometimes on my days off,” my server told me as we tried to find a replacement for a dish that had run out that evening. “It’s amazing. But how do you feel about stew?”

Stew? Hang on. What? I had not seen any stew on the menu. “If you like beef stew, I have exactly the thing for you,” she promised. I could hear her excitement as I agreed. Ten minutes later, she brought out the Lion King ($27).

I want to stress that she did not raise the bowl above her head for all the fellow diners to witness.


At first glance, the dish looked just like any other creamy, coconut-based Massaman curry. But dunking my spoon, I retrieved tender shreds of slow-braised beef short rib, half-moons of skin-on baby potatoes, and broth-softened carrots. As I ate, I tasted warm cinnamon and coriander, bay and tamarind, and imagined that this was what Julia Child’s famous Boeuf Bourguignon might be like if she had trained in Phuket, not Paris.

My server suggested an order of sticky rice ($4) to go with the Lion King, and while I loved having something else to sop up the rich curry liquid, the potatoes did a fine job on their own. Instead, I recommend holding out for the sliced mango and coconut-cream-drizzled sticky rice for dessert ($13).

If you’re seated in the bar area, you can finish off your meal while watching something on the Food Network on the flat-screen television in the corner. I’m not convinced the restaurant needs the added visual distraction, but catching an episode of “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” out of the corner of my eye, I’m now itching to know how Guy Fieri would pronounce “Dok Mali.”

Dok Mali’s mango sticky rice. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

RATING: ***1/2
WHERE: 47 India St., 207-536-7119.
SERVING: Tuesday to Thursday 11:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m., Friday & Saturday 11:30 a.m.–9 p.m., Sunday 11:30 a.m.–8:30 p.m.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers: $7-$16, Entrees: $18-$29
NOISE LEVEL: Birthday cake in the break room
VEGETARIAN: Many dishes
BAR: Beer, wine and cocktails
BOTTOM LINE: Aesthetically, Dok Mali fits right in with the buzzy restaurants on Middle Street, with its cozy modern (almost Scandinavian) vibe and effervescent use of color. But this Thai comfort-food restaurant, a first Portland restaurant for long-time local Nonglack Thanephonesy, deserves attention mostly for the quality of its cooking, especially classic noodle dishes like Pad See Ew and a funky, Laotian-style Mali pad thai. Moreover, the restaurant’s more unexpected dishes are terrific, plates like grilled okra skewers, salmon “salad” with chili and watercress, and a Massaman short rib curry that tastes so French, it ought to take a 23andMe. A full bar featuring Instagram-friendly cocktails will attract diners, but they’ll stay for Dok Mali’s homey, comforting take on Thai street food.

Ratings follow this scale and take into consideration food, atmosphere, service, value and type of restaurant (a casual bistro will be judged as a casual bistro, an expensive upscale restaurant as such):

* Poor
** Fair
*** Good
**** Excellent
***** Extraordinary

The Maine Sunday Telegram visits each restaurant once; if the first meal was unsatisfactory, the reviewer returns for a second. The reviewer makes every attempt to dine anonymously and never accepts free food or drink.

Andrew Ross has written about food and dining in New York and the United Kingdom. He and his work have been featured on Martha Stewart Living Radio and in The New York Times. He is the recipient of five recent Critic’s Awards from the Maine Press Association.

Contact him at:
Twitter: @AndrewRossME 

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.

filed under: