Located a few steps lower than street level, the cavernous dimly lit space aims to be a microcosm of the real thing; there's an open kitchen that imitates the sights and sizzle of the market, and salvaged doors imported from the motherland and mounted to imitate houses. A cafe and bar (named Bebop for a local music house) offers its own snack bar menu, and there's a takeout station fashioned to look like a street hawker's cart.
The spacious 80-seat hall offers a mix of seating, including a cushioned area where diners sit on the floor. A private dining room sits 22 at long communal tables, while Bebop will accommodate 35 when it's standing room only.
The menu, collaged with clip art and hand lettering, is divided into two categories, 'snacks and starters' and 'mains' - all of which is best eaten family-style, inviting diners to help themselves and share and sample around the table.
Green papaya salad with a choice of dried shrimp ($9) or salted crab ($10) is presented on a vintage tray surrounded by rice noodles, pork rinds and shrimp chips. The salad itself is like a slaw, a medley of shredded fruit, tomatoes and green beans dressed with a garlicky marinade made with chilies, tamarind juice, fish sauce, coconut sugar and lime.
Next up, Tom Yum Kung Mor Fai ($15), a hot and sour shrimp soup, is carried over, still simmering, in a Thai hot pot. Two pink prawns, heads-on, are peeking out from the fragrant broth swimming with tomatoes, mushrooms, lemongrass, galangal and cilantro.
Grilled beef salad ($12) features steak cooked to a deep pink, sliced and then dressed in a tangy lime sauce with fresh herbs, lemongrass and crispy shallots.
While the cocktail list and beer menu are ready to go, the restaurant is still awaiting its liquor license, so for now, it's fruit juices, shakes and condensed milk-sweetened Thai iced tea ($4.50). Once approved, look forward to cucumber Collins cocktails and Singha by the bottle.
Pai is open daily until 10pm; from Monday to Saturday, the restaurant opens for lunch and take-out at 11:30am, while on Sundays, dinner starts at 5pm. Once the LLBO comes through, expect this spot to become a haven for late night eats, with the Bebop snack menu intended to keep the kitchen cooking until last call.
Photos by Jesse Milns