Portlanders keep things casual at Phuket Cafe, Akkapong Earl Ninsom’s newest Portland, Oregon hit
Welcome to Best Dressed, an Eater series where restaurant diners show and tell what they’re wearing out to dinner, from the small details to the splashy pieces — and how they approached getting dressed for each spot’s specific scene. After two years of inside time, how do we dress to go out these days?
Want to see what diners are wearing in Brooklyn, Philly, and Paris? See all of our Best Dressed series here.
The Restaurant: Phuket Cafe
Location: Northwest Portland
Cuisine: Eclectic Thai
Menu Highlights: Pandan cheese roti, “Thai style ceviche” with striped bass and peanut brittle, turmeric and lemongrass curry with prawns
Akkapong Earl Ninsom, the Portland restaurateur behind blockbusters like Southern Thai fried chicken shop Hat Yai and Thai American barbecue hybrid Eem, opened his latest restaurant, Phuket Cafe, in March, and quickly it became the buzzy new spot in the neighborhood. On Saturday nights, a sampling of Portlanders and tourists descend on the restaurant to sit in its outdoor dining area, designed to resemble a Thai train car, or to grab a seat at the restaurant’s sought-after tasting menu supper club, Langbaan. While Portlanders aren’t inclined to dress up in many scenarios — the city is famously dressed down, with locals heading to dinner after hikes and paddling trips — restaurants can be places where a Portlander throws on a dress, a heel, or a paperclip necklace. At Phuket Cafe on a Saturday night, the styles on display ran the gamut, from little black dresses to jeans and tees — even at a single table.
Steph, graphic designer, and David, network engineer
Eater: What brings you out to dinner tonight?
Steph: It was spontaneous.
David: A spur-of-the-moment thing, yeah. We weren’t thinking about it until it just came up.
So when you are getting ready to go out to eat, do you think about what you’re wearing? What are you considering as you choose your outfit?
Steph: I was like, I want to wear tights because I work from home now. And I don’t wear tights when I’m working from home.
They’re quite the tights, too! Where are they from?
Steph: You know, I’m not sure where I got them, but I think they’re probably from Ross. I get a lot of my tights from Ross.
Were you someone who would usually dress up, pre-pandemic?
Steph: Yeah, I would wear dresses a lot.
So talk to me about the dress — is it something you’ve had for a long time?
Steph: Yep, it’s something I’ve had for a long time. And I’m not sure where I got it. But you know, it’s a black dress, I have a lot of them.
So you’re a year-round dress person, not someone who just wears them in the summer.
Steph: Oh yeah, I’m a year-round dress person. Because then you can gain and lose weight and still wear your dresses.
If you’re doing the little black dress thing, are you somebody who accessorizes a lot or not really?
Steph: I don’t really wear jewelry. I used to wear jewelry a lot more, and then since the pandemic I was just not used to wearing it again; I felt weird. Earrings are usually it.
I’m going to move on to your sunglasses, classic for this time of year—
Steph: These are actually my regular glasses and they just change in the sun. So I don’t have to switch them out and I can still see.
Now, David, what are you thinking about when going out to eat? How do you choose what you wear?
David: I don’t dress up at work, I don’t dress up at home, it’s usually pretty much always hoodie, T-shirt, and jeans. But when it gets over 70 degrees, no hoodie. I do have a dressy situation, but I haven’t worn it in years.
Sure, and in Portland, you don’t really have to dress up if you don’t feel like it, right?
Ashe, marketing, and Jessica, finance, going to Langbaan
What brought you out to dinner?
Ashe: I follow @foodiesnitch, naturally, and you know, last weekend, they were here, I saw the photos at like 4 a.m., and I was like, “I wonder if they have any reservations.” They had one, for four people, and I was like, “We have to go.” Because we have a supper club, too.
You have a supper club?
Ashe: Yeah, so we just have a group of people that like to eat, so we try and make reservations someplace once a month. We’ll order everything and just eat, family-style.
I love it. So I’ll start with you, Ashe — talk to me about your shoes. Where did you get them?
Ashe: Aloha, they’re Alohas. I just needed a lavender chunky shoe and there they were.
You know, we all have needs.
Ashe: And they match the eyeliner!
When you’re thinking about what you want to wear when you go out to eat, what comes to mind?
Ashe: Can I feel good in it and eat as much as I want? No waistband is usually a pro, so I do, like, dresses.
So when you’re doing something like a loose dress, no tight waistband, how do you accessorize?
Ashe: I don’t like a lot of jewelry because I’m very fair, but I recently got this paperclip necklace from Allison Hall, and also my wedding bands are from Allison Hall.
And the sunglasses?
Ashe: Sun Buddies. I’ve lost them and recouped them several times. I lost them in a field? On a tire swing? That literally happened two weeks ago.
What about you, Jessica? When you think about what you want to wear when you go out to eat, what do you think?
Jessica: Same as Ashe, what’s cute and what’s comfortable, mainly. But today I went salsa dancing on the Portland Spirit before this. I’m kind of just wearing what I wore there.
Ashe: But there was also a theme, which was pink and blue.
Jessica: Which I was told like 10 minutes before.
Ashe: But she’s clearly nailing it.
When figuring out an outfit for dance into dinner — are you thinking, can I move in it but also eat?
Jessica: Yes, it was definitely a conversation. So this is actually a swim cover-up, but it was bright and I thought it went with the dress. And I wanted something, like, I didn’t know how cold it was going to be on the boat.
What about accessories?
Jessica: I mean, literally right now I’m wearing paper bracelets. With accessories, all I care about are my hoop earrings and my sunglasses.
And the shoes?
Jessica: These are actually shoes I bought online, I think they might be from Shein? They’re comfortable.
Some people say, “You can wear anything to go out to eat in Portland, no one dresses up.” What’s your perspective on that?
Ashe: I feel like there are no rules. I was talking to my husband, he’s Chilean, and with COVID, we haven’t gone out as much until recently. And he would get really dressed up to go out to eat. I’d say, “You know, you can wear that, but also know that you don’t have to.” You’re going to see people dressed up, and you’re going to see people in flannel. I like that there’s no pressure; it makes it more fun to dress up and be a little more unexpected.
Nicole, advertising, and Christina, real estate agent
What brought you out tonight?
Christina: Girl’s night. Our friend’s husband kind of knows the owner from setting up the restaurant, so we got to try it out.
How would you describe your style?
Nicole: None. Nonexistent. Sweats, normally.
Christina: I think she has better style than describing it as “sweats.”
Nicole: I am a work-from-home mom who wears a lot of leggings. I would say that’s my style, and some funky fucking T-shirts.
I think that’s true of Portland in general. And also, people have been inside for so long.
Nicole: I don’t know how to dress anymore.
Well, I think your outfit is pretty good, considering your style is “nonexistent,” in your words. Talk to me a little bit about the romper you have on.
Nicole: This is literally a Gap outfit. It’s years old and from the Gap. Circa 2019.
I think that’s valid and good.
Christina: I call that a staple for your closet.
So you’re putting on the romper, how do you accessorize?
Nicole: So let’s start with this bracelet. It’s from a local jewelry shop called Betsy & Iya. I love this place, and it’s right over there. I used to live in this neighborhood, and I would shop there all the time.
Your purse is also very cute. Where’s that from?
Nicole: Madewell. Old as fuck, again.
And you, Christina? How would you describe your style?
Christina: Mine is definitely simple comfort with just like, fun accessories. I feel like that’s the best way, if you’re not as confident in yourself, you can make it feel like you are. Just a little bit of shine, you know. I’m not as edgy as I was when I was younger but I try to carry a little bit of it through.
Casual comfort with fun accessories totally tracks — you’re wearing jeans but you make it look very dressy because of your choices of accessories. Like, your belt, where did you get that?
Christina: I’m ballin’ on a budget, so most of it is Shein. Or like, T.J. Maxx. As long as I can make my dollar go as far as possible and still feel like I’m trendy and good-looking. The earrings are Shein, too.
Nicole: What is Shein?
Christina: It’s like, an online shopping place where you can get things for literally like $2. So if it doesn’t fit, it’s like, “Aw, well, it’s $2.” So belt, Shein, earrings, Shein, and I think the rest is T.J. Maxx.
Trisha, Gloria, Jason, and Ben. Trisha and Ben live in Portland; her family, including Gloria and Jason, is visiting from Florida.
So how did you find out about this place?
Trisha: We actually live in the neighborhood, so I was on my way to the library, and I saw them working on it. So we asked about it.
Ben: We had also eaten at Eem a few times before this place opened. So we knew it was going to be good.
So when you go out to eat, are you dressing up?
Ben: No. She does sometimes, though.
Trisha: Like, 50 percent of the time.
I love your dress; where did you get it?
Trisha: I don’t remember, sorry.
That’s okay — that’s been the theme today. But the shoes are great too. Do you know where you got those?
Trisha: Nike store.
I love a dress and a pair of sneakers, especially in the summer. It makes it easier to take long walks.
Trisha: I’ll go to the library because it’s a good walk, it’s my big walk of the week.
What about your purse?
Trisha: Oh, it’s from eBay, but the strap was broken. So now it’s repaired.
What do you think about Portland’s style when it comes to going out to eat?
Trisha: In Portland, it’s definitely easier to be creative in some ways. If I’m in Seattle, I have to be like, “Oh, is this gonna be too weird?” Because one time, I wore something out and my friend was like, “This is a very Portland look.” And like, what does that even mean?
Ben: There are a lot of sneakers in Portland. But I think that’s just because Nike and Adidas are both here.
I was going to say, you are all wearing sneakers, which feels very fitting. Ben, I was also going to ask you about your glasses.
Ben: These are from Spectacle, I think it’s called, but I don’t know the brand.
Trisha: [Trisha removes Ben’s frames and reads them.] Oh, they’re from Ahlem.
Ben: But she picked them out for me. I kind of just wear whatever Trisha thinks looks good.
Ashley, functional nutritionist
What brings you to Phuket Cafe?
I’m meeting a friend from the Bay Area. I love this spot.
I love this dress you’re wearing.
I don’t remember where I got it. I just took a hike and I wanted to be comfortable. Anything that works with Tevas works for me.
Is that true in the winter too?
It depends. In the summer, I want something that can handle the heat. In the winter, I’m basically just wearing all black.
Now, the premise of this piece is that I’m trying to capture how Portlanders look when they go out to eat — what’s your general perspective on that? How do you think Portlanders dress when they want to go out?
I think Portlanders like to be themselves, so people show up as they are.
These interviews have been condensed and edited for clarity.
Ben Olsen is a photographer and filmmaker based in Portland.