The lovely Avenue One closed with the abruptness of a hiccup. Diners showed up one night to find the place papered over, a sad little note on the door. Il Gambero, which has been on First Avenue since the beginning of time, is also gone, which might tempt those watching Seattle's restaurant scene to buy into some high-flown cultural theory about boom-to-bust economics, the failure of the Urban Village, or the right and wrong models for fine-dining success.

But none of this would be accurate--since Belltown's weekend nightlife (mid-priced, see-and-be-seen places like Medusa, Axis, Bada Lounge, the new Frontier Room), by all accounts, seems to be thriving. It seems that the closings of Avenue One and Il Gambero belong to someone else's conspiracy theory. A new branch of Jai Thai (a little chain with restaurants in Fremont and Northgate) has already moved into the old Il Gambero space, and is open for business. It's funny how little you need to do to change intimate Mediterranean décor into intimate Thai: Trade out the cherubic statues for some rich-colored silks, add some intricately carved screens--voilà.

Now Thai food has always been food of last resort to me. I'd rather have Vietnamese, if there's a choice--the flavors are fresher, more distinct--and Italian noodles are often more satisfying. But Jai Thai in Fremont had a dish that I'd crave beyond substitution, called Phad Kee Mao (or "Drunken Noodles," for some reason I was never able to discover, $8.50), a kind of variation on Phad Thai with wide noodles and curry, tremendously good with shrimp. The cooks at Jai Thai also know their way around a scallop, gently cooking it to tenderness instead of to latex consistency; I recently ate them in a Yum Talay salad ($9.50) with squid (a little rubbery), shrimp, and salmon, with delicate cabbage leaves and pungent lime and fish-sauce dressing. I also sampled chicken and potatoes in yellow curry ($8); the coconut-milk sauce was so good, I passed on the chicken and potatoes and ate a bowlful of sauce and rice, like some kind of heavenly rice pudding. An enormous serving of garlic pork ($9) was tender and garlicky, but could have been spicier. (In fact, no one asked us how many stars we could handle.)

At any rate, now there's decent and cheap Thai food in Belltown. If Jai Thai can't succeed, we'll have to come up with a new conspiracy theory.

Jai Thai 2132 First Ave (Belltown), 770-7884. Lunch Mon-Fri 11 am-3 pm; dinner Mon-Thurs 3-9:30 pm (Fri 10:30 pm), Sat noon-10:30 pm, Sun noon-9:30 pm. Sat 5 pm-midnight, Sun 5--11 pm; brunch Sat and Sun 8 am-3 pm.

Support The Stranger