When Ketsuda Nan Chaison first opened Thai vegetarian restaurant Kati, she had a clear vision in mind: A place serving the dishes she loved to eat, minus the animal products. “Being AAPI in America, we’re always saying, ‘Where’s the good Asian food around here?’” she says. “We just want to do that in a plant-based way. … I don’t want people to think, ‘Oh, it’s missing meat;’ it doesn’t need meat. We can make it as delicious without meat.”
Chaison went on to open Mestizo with her family, serving dishes like aguachile made with heart of palm and banana flower tacos. Mestizo has become a hub for pop-ups, ranging from dinners with celebrated chef Luna Contreras to the buzzy Filipino supper club Tikim. While Mestizo has flourished, Chaison has stepped away from Kati; still, she hasn’t given up on that goal, to make vegan-friendly versions of the Asian foods she loves to eat, without compromising.
So, Chaison is taking that concept somewhere new. Norah, a 100-percent vegan pan-Asian restaurant, is taking over the space once home to Imjai Thai, serving dishes like herby salad rolls with marinated tofu, curry-spiced burgers, and more.
The name ‘Norah’ is a reference to both Chaison and co-owner Prae Nobnorb’s Southern Thai roots. Manora is a traditional Thai dance that originated in that region; sometimes, it’s used as slang to refer to girls from Southern Thailand. However, the restaurant won’t be limited to just dishes from Southern Thailand, or Thailand as a whole. For example, one dish Chaison’s particularly excited about is a soy-curl-and-mushroom slider, flavored with lime leaf, smothered in a green curry sauce and a house pickle.
“It’s a different, new way of eating slider, with that Asian influence to it,” she says. “Just because I’m from Thailand doesn’t mean I’m just going to do Thai food; I want to use different spices from Southeast Asia and put that into the food.”
Chaison also emphasized that, while tofu will be spotted on the menu at Norah, she wants to make sure the kitchen isn’t simply swapping other animal proteins for tofu and stir-fried vegetables. For example, the restaurant’s take on nam khao tod, a crispy rice salad often made with pork, will use a house-made fermented mushroom.
Norah’s bar will serve a handful of specialty cocktails and mocktails — five each — as well as wines and beers from Oregon and Washington winemakers, particularly those from queer-owned and women-owned businesses. For example, she hopes to include bottles from Gonzales Wine Company, a label she got to know through her work with Contreras.
Like Mestizo, Norah will remain a community hub as much as it is a restaurant, a place for pop-ups and mentorship for other marginalized groups and new immigrants interested in learning more about the local food industry. “I want to be an inspiration for people who just immigrated here, who want to start up their own business,” she says. “When I moved over here, I didn’t know anyone; it was just me and my daughter. You feel like you’re in the dark. … I want to be able to collaborate with local chefs, helping with local farms and small business owners, so we can create a system in Portland to support each other.”
Norah is expected to open in December at 3801 SE Belmont Street.