Central Oregon’s best Thai food outside of the downtown Bend core may be found in a strip mall on the south side of Redmond.
The Thai O Restaurant, which opened July 1, is located in the building that once housed the Kyoto Japanese Restaurant in the Fred Meyer Shopping Plaza.
It’s a father-and-son operation, and the pair are so dedicated to the business that they work seven days a week, lunch and dinner.
Kritsada Osathanon moved to Redmond with his adult son, Chanin, from Beaverton. After moving from Bangkok, the family has owned the Thai Cabin restaurant in that Portland suburb since 2006. Kritsada’s wife and daughter continue to run Thai Cabin, but when he decided to expand, he cast his eyes upon Redmond.
Today Kritsada is the cook, Chanin the host and server. And although Thai O could use some improvement in terms of general ambience, it ranks near the top of the region’s Asian restaurants when it comes to quality of food and value for money.
Dinner for two
When my companion and I arrived for dinner one recent evening, Chanin quietly greeted us and showed us to a table. The restaurant has table seating for about 60 people, and stools for another 15 at a counter that once served as a sushi bar.
Yet there is precious little adornment to brighten up the white walls and black-topped tables of Thai O.
The few wall hangings include a prominent photograph of esteemed Thai King Chulalongkorn, who died exactly 100 years ago. Upon the counter are a carved wooden family of elephants and two traditional Thai maidens in a welcoming, kneeling pose.
Music plays in the background, but it is neither classical Thai or modern Asian pop ballads. Instead, we listened to soft American rock from the ’60s.
When Chanin delivered our appetizer course — a half-dozen blue crab wontons — we were immediately impressed.
The pan-fried dumplings were not overly crispy and they were certainly not greasy, as had been our fear. They were stuffed with a generous amount of sweet blue crab meat, blended with a sufficiently modest amount of cream cheese to allow the seafood flavor to shine through. The wontons were served with a sweet chili sauce and presented atop shredded white cabbage.
Curry and pad Thai
For dinner, we shared a curry and a noodle dish with white and brown rice. We had not been asked about the spice level we preferred; when our dishes were served, they were medium hot, and that worked for us both.
Our Panang curry came with sliced pork, slow-cooked in a light and creamy red curry sauce. Freshly cut green beans dominated the mixed vegetables, along with basil leaves, chopped green and red bell peppers and a handful of frozen peas and carrots. It was very good.
We weren’t quite as crazy about the pad Thai, a traditional street dish that is made in various fashions throughout Thailand. At Thai O, rice noodles were stir-fried with bean sprouts, cabbage, eggs, green onions and ground peanuts. It was made at our request with chicken; we also could have asked for tofu or any of several other meats.
I found the flavor a little dry; it could perhaps have used a touch more peanut sauce, or a further sprinkle of light fish sauce, a basic Thai condiment. But we ate every bite.
Of two bowls of rice, we found the steamed white jasmine rice to be standard, not sticky; but we preferred the hearty brown rice.
Lunch for one
I came back a few days later for a solo lunch. Chanin shyly smiled and offered me a table. His soft-spoken manner is endearing and genuine, but I sometimes found myself wishing that he were just a bit more assertive. That doesn’t appear to be his way.
This time, in taking my order, the server inquired about the spice level. I was pleased to once again enjoy moderate heat.
I began with a cup of tom kah, a ginger-lemongrass soup made with coconut milk. Although the soup is often made with chicken or shrimp, this was a vegetarian variety with tofu, as well as fresh mushrooms and both green and white onions. It was a zesty start to the meal.
Chicken larb is one of my favorite Thai dishes, but too often, I have been disappointed with its preparation. Here it was perfect, perhaps the best I’ve had in Oregon. Ground poultry was stir-fried with slices of red onion, dry Thai chilies, chopped cilantro and green onions in a chili-lime dressing, then served with a quarter-wedge of iceberg lettuce for wrapping.
I also had a beef-and-basil stir-fry, one of several lunch specials served daily until 3 p.m. Although the meat could have been more tender, all of the vegetables were very fresh: red and green bell peppers, mushrooms, onions and green beans, with a modest sprinkle of dry chilies.
There’s no question that I’ll consider Thai O a good meal option whenever I am in Redmond.
The Caldera Grille , which has replaced longtime favorite Giuseppe’s in downtown Bend, expected to open today with a menu of American food as well as a few Italian dishes popular at Giuseppe’s, all priced under $15. The new owners — Creak Paustian, Stacy Caito and chef Justin Troxell — were previously involved with the D&D Bar&Grill across the street. Open 5:30 a.m. to 2:30 a.m. every day; 932 N.W. Bond St., Bend; 389-8899.
Downtown Redmond’s Mele Ohana Cafe has cut back on hours, and is now open only for private functions, seasonal luaus and catering. Owned by Joey and Novalen Tavita, whose Hokulei’a Hawaiian dance troupe often performs here, the cafe has served low-cost Hawaiian-style meals in an alcohol-free environment. 541 S.W. Seventh St., Redmond; 541-548-3227.
Letzer’s Deli (A-): Bend’s only authentic Jewish delicatessen has a pedigree that dates back to Southern California in the 1950s. Decor may be basic, but service is fast, quality is top notch and portions are huge. Patrons won’t go wrong in ordering corned beef, pastrami and Swiss on rye. Open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. 1155 S.E. Division St. (Scandia Square), Bend; 541-306-4696, www.letzersdeli.com.
Shari’s Restaurants (B+): These family-friendly restaurants, part of an Oregon-based chain, are known for their distinctive, six-sided design. Casual and well-lit, they feature solid comfort food at reasonable prices with homespun service, and are open 24 hours daily. 61135 S. U.S. Highway 97, Bend (541-389-2405); 3098 N. U.S. Highway 97, Bend (541-382-0674); 1565 Odem Medo Road, Redmond (541-923-0400); www.sharis.com.
Rivals Sports Bar, Grill & Poker (B+): A good option for enjoying a light meal while watching the big game, Rivals is succeeding in a venue where other restaurants have failed. Reasonably priced burgers, prompt service and a laid-back ambience extend to a large poker room in the rear. Open 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. 2650 N.E. Division St., Bend; 541-550-7771, www .rivalsbend.com.
Anthony’s at the Old Mill (B): Despite a highly professional wait staff, Anthony’s falls short of its considerable promise. Grilled fish and chowder are good but the recipes are unimaginative, the menu overpriced and the ambience lacking in intimacy. Open 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 to 9:30 p.m. Sunday. 475 S.W. Powerhouse Drive (Old Mill District), Bend; 541-389-8998; www.anthonys.com/ restaurants/info/bend.html.