WILD ROSE NORTHERN THAI EATS

Food: () Authentic Chiang Mai-style cuisine is hearty and delicious.

Service: () For such a high-volume restaurant, service is remarkably fast and personable.

Atmosphere: () Dried roses, pinned to low rafters, lend a festive touch to the casual space.

More Info

Location: 150 NW Oregon Ave., Bend

Hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday

Cuisine: Northern Thai

Price range: Lunch, $6 to $9; dinner, small plates $9 to $16, larger plates and soups $14 to $18.

Credit cards: American Express, Mastercard, Visa

Kids’ menu: On request

Vegetarian and gluten-free menu: Broad selection includes curries and papaya salad

Alcoholic beverages: Fully licensed

Outdoor seating: No

Reservations: One-day advance for parties of six or more

Contact: www.wildrosethai.com, 541-382-0441

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There are no more than a handful of restaurants in Central Oregon where hungry diners have come to expect a wait before they’ll be seated. At the top of that list is Wild Rose.

After nearly six years in business, downtown Bend’s casual Northern Thai eatery has established a claim to being the region’s best Asian restaurant of any type. And it’s hard to argue with that.

Father-daughter owners Paul and Rosie Itti have captivated diners with a heartier style of Thai food than is seen at other local establishments such as Toomie’s, Noi and Orchid Thai. The cuisine of their hometown of Chiang Mai, more than 400 miles north of Bangkok, is marked by a greater use of dried spices, turmeric and tamarind than in the south.

Wild Rose Northern Thai Eats is as authentic to northern Thailand as one can find in this part of Oregon. Curries are boiled rather than fried, and there’s a greater use of such red meats as beef brisket and spicy sausage. Patrons won’t find pad thai on the menu — that popular rice-noodle dish was relatively unknown in Thailand before World War II — nor will they be offered chopsticks, which are not typically used by Thais.

This hasn’t dissuaded diners. Except, perhaps, in mid-afternoon, they seem content to add their names to a seating list, in the knowledge that 30 to 45 minutes (or longer) may pass before they’ll be packed into a spacious room for family-style dining on shared platters. Dried roses, pinned to the low rafters, lend an additional festive touch in a restaurant decorated with colorful plastic tablecloths, as well as photographs and art on nearly every inch of wall space.

Family recipes

My dining companion and I started our most recent Wild Rose meal with a delicious soup, a family recipe kept simmering on the tabletop. Grandfather’s Tom Kha ($14) was outrageously delicious, a broth of coconut milk with lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves and galangal (a relative of ginger). Straw mushrooms and cilantro, along with squares of tofu — which we chose as a protein instead of chicken — completed the soup.

We also loved the turmeric clams ($16), Manila clams steamed then stir-fried in a curry sauce with egg, basil, green onion and, of course, turmeric. Part of the appeal of this dish is the sauce that remains on the plate when the seafood is gone: We were well advised by our server to order extra rice to help soak it up.

Although it wasn’t my favorite, my companion raved about the curry basil noodles ($14) with chicken. Broad rice noodles were stir-fried in a hearty yellow-curry seasoning with onions, carrots, mushrooms, tomato, basil and egg. I thought this was a bit heavy for a warm summer evening, although it sated my friend’s appetite.

I’ve always been a big fan of som tum ($10). This salad features under-ripe green papaya, shredded and tossed in a light dressing of lime, garlic and palm sugar. This is supplemented by a variety of other ingredients — peanuts, carrots, green beans, cherry tomato, fresh chilies — and presented with cucumber slices and a quarter wedge of iceberg lettuce for wrapping.

Another variety of lettuce wrap is larb muang ($10). On this occasion, I preferred the Wild Rose version even more than som tum. Minced pork was stir-fried with garlic, green onions, cilantro and other spices, and served with lettuce and cucumber.

I like my Thai food a little spicier than does my dining companion. We ordered most of our dishes at 3-star level (out of 5 stars), with the larb an exception at 4 stars. Every dish was a little milder than I had anticipated. I worry that Wild Rose might be downgrading its spice level for fear of offending Western palates. I hope that isn’t the case.

Fine service

Casual though it may be, Wild Rose has a full bar that serves not only beer and wine, but a wide variety of cocktails and other drinks. My companion, for instance, had a refreshing libation of sweet lychee juice with vodka.

I opted for a Tiger Woods, a version of a nonalcoholic Arnold Palmer made with Thai iced tea, lemonade and lime. It’s appropriate: The mother of the famous golfer, Kultida Punsawad, is a native of Thailand.

For a restaurant with such a high volume of business, service is remarkably fast and personable. Despite pressure from kitchen and customers, our server was at once friendly and professional, joking with us and giving his full attention, even while assuring that our orders were delivered as quickly as possible.

— John Gottberg Anderson can be reached janderson@bendbulletin.com

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