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Where To Chalawan in Porter Square.

Why For Southeast Asian dishes enjoyed amid the happy clatter of delighted diners.

Chef Palm Amatawate at Chalawan in Cambridge.
Chef Palm Amatawate at Chalawan in Cambridge.Craig F. Walker/Globe staff

The Back Story Chalawan replaces Pho House; management remains the same. In addition to the new name, there’s a new chef: Palm Amatawate, who grew up in southern Thailand and comes from a restaurant family. He’s cooked in Australia, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. He moved to the Boston area from Bali with his family, betting that Cambridge diners would welcome his ideas.

“I wanted to do proper Thai food, as authentic as possible. We make everything, all our curry pastes, in house; I wanted to bring upscale Thai and Southeast Asian food to an upscale market,” he says.

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Freshly shucked East Coast oyster with red nahm jim shallot cilantro and salmon caviar at Chalawan in Cambridge.
Freshly shucked East Coast oyster with red nahm jim shallot cilantro and salmon caviar at Chalawan in Cambridge. Craig F. Walker/Globe staff

What To Eat A piece of advice: Don’t consult the online menu to strategize your order; it might not match the printed version. “I’m sorry; we don’t have that,” I’m told about promising online offerings (steamed buns with roasted duck and hoisin sauce; Kampong crispy chicken). An apologetic host and waitress are happy to make other suggestions, though, and those recommendations are right on. Among the hits: steamed snapper dumplings awash in a biting black vinegar-chili sauce ($9); creamy, fatty pork belly in a sugary plum and tamarillo sauce, topped with fried shallots ($12); chunky beef tenderloin cubes with chilies and cilantro ($20); and Indonesian chicken curry, a korma-style platter of tomatoes and potatoes, braised in yogurt. ($19). The meat is high quality and unfettered by gloppy sauces.

Seared Alaska scallop with green nahm jim ginger, scallion, shallot, and caramelized crispy duck at Chalawan.
Seared Alaska scallop with green nahm jim ginger, scallion, shallot, and caramelized crispy duck at Chalawan.Craig F. Walker/Globe staff

What To Drink A small bar at the back of the restaurant serves unexpectedly fun nonalcoholic cocktails: a virgin bloody Mary with house-made chili salts; a watermelon-ginger “refresher”; a banana smoothie; a Thai soda of honey and lime. There’s also wine and Singaporean or Thai beer (Leo, Singha, Tiger).

Chicken betel leaf at Chalawan.
Chicken betel leaf at Chalawan.Craig F. Walker/Globe staff

The Takeaway At 5:30 p.m., the softly lit dining room is overflowing and noisy; walk-ins are gently asked to return in two hours. Tables are filled with families tending high-chair-bound babies; young couples (including a pair clearly meeting for the first time, with one half of the couple arriving late and apologizing to his restless date, who’s uncomfortable occupying prime real estate alone); and locals thanking staffers for opening in the neighborhood. A few people swarm the entrance, settling on takeout instead; the host runs interference with aplomb, delivering dishes, tossing off food recommendations — every customer is urged to order the snapper dumplings — and occasionally pausing to answer the phone. Another piece of advice: It might ring and ring should you call for a reservation or for takeout. Don’t give up.

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Chalawan, 1790 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, 617-547-8888, www.thechalawan.com

The softly lit dining room at Chalawan.
The softly lit dining room at Chalawan.Craig F. Walker/Globe staff

Kara Baskin can be reached at kara.baskin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @kcbaskin.