Topher Castaneda serves tables at Mitr Ping Yang Thai Kitchen in Portland. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“Welcome to Mit … ” my server said as she approached the table. I smiled, waiting for the end of the word. It didn’t come.

Assuming she had stopped mid-dipthong because she saw something out of place, I looked around. Was I not supposed to sit on this tawny leather banquette underneath a Warhol-inspired portrait of Miss Thailand? Did the server forget silverware and just remembered? Was there a spider on me?!

“So it’s not pronounced like mitre or meter?” I asked, finally catching on.

“Nope. The ‘r’ is silent, so it’s ‘mit’ like ‘mitten.’ It means friend,” she said with a laugh. “I have this same conversation 10 times a day, don’t worry.”

Officially, this tiny Libbytown newcomer is called Mitr Ping Yang Thai Kitchen. “Ping yang” refers to the restaurant’s specialty: street-food-inspired dishes that co-owner Darit Chandpen (Mi Sen, Cheevitdee) describes as “Grilled skewers like the kind you find all over Thailand, in every town.” He explained, “The meat or fish gets marinated first and then cooked on the grill and served with sauce. It’s a little like Japanese yakitori, except that it’s Thai, with Thai flavors.”

Options are also broader than at many yakitori grills in the United States, where chicken tends to be the focus. Mitr offers most of their proteins in skewer format (apart from tofu, that is). Lemongrass-marinated beef ($8) tastes like summer on a stick, with charbroiled dark bits and aromatic, funky Jeow sauce. Soy, cilantro and ginger-marinated chicken livers ($7.50) also make an appealing skewer, but skip the sweet Thai chile sauce it’s served with and ask for the tart tamarind and umami-powered Jeow sauce instead.


That might be good advice across the menu, including for the rice-paper-wrapped fresh rolls ($9). At Mitr, the cool handheld appetizer gets bundled not with raw ingredients exclusively, but with a savory sauté of mushrooms, basil and tofu. It comes with a Kewpie mayonnaise, lime and garlic sauce (very aioli-like), and while it’s good enough, a dunk in the Jeow sauce brings these fresh rolls to life. If you’re ordering for takeout – as about 50% of customers do, according to Chandpen – you might want to skip the fresh rolls; they dry out very quickly.

Mitr’s papaya salad. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Green papaya salad (som tum, $13) is another dish that perhaps does not travel as well as it should. Indeed, when you eat at one of the 20-ish indoor seats in the handsome, stylish dining room, consider this crunchy, tangy slaw an automatic addition to your meal. Chandpen and his co-owners Wan Pitafai and Patira Tedford (all of whom share the cooking at Mitr) build their version of the salad to-order. Their som tum starts with thicker strips of unripened papaya than you might find elsewhere, which gets roughed up in a pestle and mortar along with garlic, cherry tomatoes, green beans and fish sauce.

Order the same dish for takeaway, however, and the sauce and other wet ingredients are sequestered apart from one another. “When the papaya sits in the water too long, it gets soggy and not fresh anymore,” Chandpen said. “It’s OK for 20-30 minutes, but for some of our customers with third-party delivery, it might take an hour. That’s too long.”

But this salad isn’t a McDLT. You can’t keep some ingredients separate without losing something important, and here, that’s both texture and flavor. Like the fresh roll wrappers, green papaya dries out rapidly, leaving bland, woody shreds.

The fried chicken with garlic rice at Mitr. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The fried chicken is another reason to dine in at Mitr. “We wanted to include the kind of fried chicken you can get on the street in Thailand on the menu,” Chandpen said. “It’s mostly rice flour, a little AP (all-purpose flour) and spices in the batter, but we make it so we can use it on dishes and serve it by itself.”

Named for the town of Hat Yai, this chicken is dredged in a thin coating of batter that creates a caramelized, crunchy crust. On its own with a generous portion of garlic rice ($16), it’s a great option for dining in (but yet again, ask for the Jeow sauce instead of the sugary chili condiment). I also think it’s the best protein choice to add to Mitr’s pad thai ($14-17), melding and softening as it mingles with Mitr’s unusually tangy tamarind-forward pad thai sauce. Most other American Thai restaurants offer stir-fried strips of (usually white meat) chicken in their pad thai, but it’s rare to see one that serves crisp cubes of juicy thigh meat. Don’t miss out.


Across my recent visits (plus a takeout order or two) to Mitr, the best dish I tasted was the pad prik khing ($14-17.50), a fiery green-bean curry made with a floral, garlicky red sauce and topped with a fried egg. With tofu ($14), it’s a solid dish. With crispy bits of bacony pork belly ($17.50), it’s a knockout.

Order it spicy and have dessert ready to go to cool your palate. Mango sticky rice ($7) made with coconut cream and a pink-purple combo of glutinous sticky rice and the same “riceberry” grain this team served at Cheevitdee is satisfying, if a little salty. But Mitr’s homemade, single-serving coconut chiffon cakes ($10) are delicate and not too sweet. Summertime diners will also appreciate the fact that the cake is served icebox-cold, with a spoon – the right tool to excavate a secret vein of sticky coconut “lava sauce” from the cake’s core. “It’s a little surprise,” Chandpen said. A bit like the restaurant’s name, at least for a non-Thai speaker.

It’s these small, unexpected extras that help Mitr stand out. I also believe its menu will continue to improve as the restaurant (I hope) focuses more on strong skewer offerings and a more thorough approach to table service, one that feels less like a tiny upgrade from counter service. And really, why wouldn’t Chandpen and his partners take advantage of Mitr’s fashionable dining space – easily the prettiest spot for a bite to eat in the neighborhood?

Mitr Ping Yang Thai Kitchen. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

WHERE: 1281 Congress St., Portland. (207) 536-1672.
SERVING: Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., 4:30 p.m. – 9 p.m.
PRICE RANGE: Appetizers and skewers: $6-$16.50, Main dishes: $14-24
VEGETARIAN: Some dishes
BAR: Beer, wine and canned cocktails

BOTTOM LINE: When the team behind Mi Sen and Cheevitdee announced their new venture, Mitr Ping Yang Thai Kitchen, just at the start of the pandemic, nobody expected it would take the better part of three years for it to arrive. Lucky for Libbytown, this COVID-delayed, skewers-and-charcoal-grill-centric casual dining spot made it to its debut. Food is solid at Mitr, especially skewers like marinated chicken livers or lemongrass beef, crisp Han Yat-style fried chicken, and deceptively light, balanced desserts like cream-topped coconut cake. Combine that with the miniature dining room’s Instagram-worthy 19 coveted seats, and it’s easy to imagine Mitr becoming an attraction on an otherwise unlovely stretch of Congress Street. The password for entry is “MIT.” No, not the university, the phonetic spelling of the restaurant’s name.

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

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