Thai Orchid BLOOMS in Vancouver
WORDS Emily Penn | PHOTOGRAPHY Tim Sugden
It’s barely after 11:30 AM, the time that Thai Orchid in Vancouver opens for lunch during the week, and half the tables are already filled. By the time I leave, only a few open tables remain.
Owner Kat Saenguraiporn has just come off a long weekend of working at the Mississippi Street Fair where her other restaurant, Mee-Sen Thai Eatery, was a vendor. Even though she’s running on little sleep she is warm, welcoming and humble as she tells me the story of how she came to own two top-rated Thai eateries in the Portland-Vancouver area.
Kat started working and cooking in one of her aunt and uncle’s Thai Orchid restaurants almost twenty years ago. Several years later she got the opportunity to purchase a food cart in Portland, where she was able to truly showcase her passion for Thai cooking. She worked at the food cart with her husband until 2008, when her aunt and uncle decided to sell their Thai Orchid location in Vancouver. Kat dropped everything else she was doing to purchase the restaurant.
Since Kat bought Thai Orchid in 2008, it has been voted “Best of Clark County” every year (nine years in a row now!). It’s easy to see why – the exposed wooden beams on the ceiling give the place a rustic feel, while the décor makes it feel like you’re walking through a contemporary garden. The hosts and servers are attentive, kind, and accommodating. The focus on “freshness, quality and presentation of the food” is evident. Kat emphasizes that the quality of her ingredients is what sets Thai Orchid apart.
She also explains that her chefs, who are from Thailand, are not afraid to try new things and that they have a lot of input when it comes to creating the menu. She notes that her whole staff takes pride in what they do. “Cleanliness and consistency are other key ideas behind our success,” she tells me.
The food is presented beautifully – the Mango Delight sushi rolls stuffed with mango, avocado, cream cheese, and cucumber come out on an exquisite slab with shredded and toasted coconut sprinkled on top. The sweetness of the mango and coconut give the sushi roll an unexpected and much-welcomed flavor profile.
The mesmerizing scent of kaffir leaves and lemongrass emanate from the Tom Kha Soup, which has a coconut milk base with mushrooms and your choice of chicken, veggie, tofu, shrimp, squid, scallops or a combination of seafood.
Kat takes pride not only in serving great food, but also great drinks. After a few years in business, she added a full bar serving craft cocktails to Thai Orchid. She points out that many of the ingredients that show up on the menu also make an appearance in the drinks – cucumber, mango, basil, kaffir leaves. The wine, beer and cocktail menu is curated to go well with both Thai food and sushi.
When Kat added a Sushi Station to Thai Orchid a few years ago, “the idea of serving sushi in a Thai restaurant was quite new to people here in Vancouver”. It seems they’ve adapted quickly, though, as the chefs behind the sushi bar were busy rolling during the lunch hour.
While Thai Orchid is geared toward a fine dining experience with a steady menu punctuated by rotating specials, Kat’s other restaurant Mee-Sen Thai Eatery in Portland focuses on an ever-evolving menu of Thai street food. Both restaurants always draw from Kat’s history in authentic Thai cooking.
Kat is modest as she talks about the success of her two restaurants. She tells me what a wonderful team she has and how she couldn’t have done it without the support of her husband and family.
Thai Orchid has many regular customers, from those that work nearby and pop in for lunch during the week to others who like to enjoy a well-curated evening meal. Kat says sometimes they skip the food altogether and just come by to chat. She doesn’t seem to mind, saying, “if we can help turn their bad day into an awesome day, that would make my day.”
It’s clear that Kat wants to give her customers the best dining experience possible. Her menu offers vegan, vegetarian and gluten free options and the server was careful to ask about any allergies I might have and the level of heat I like in my Thai dishes.
“Owning and working in a restaurant has become my passion. I love to make people happy,” Kat tells me. She then goes on to say that during her staff meetings, she tells her employees to think of Thai Orchid as their home and to imagine that customers are friends they are inviting over for a meal. Guests should feel comfortable and taken care of. Feeling quite comfortable and taken care of myself, it’s clear that Kat puts her passion into practice.
Thai Orchid Restaurant (Vancouver)
213 W 11th St.
Vancouver, WA 98660
Mee-Sen Thai Eatery
3924 N Mississippi Ave.
Portland, OR 97227