La Bonita (NE)

It had been a while since I’d visited La Bonita, Northeast Alberta’s venerable stalwart taqueria. An outing to the Oregon Food Bank deemed a revisit necessary.

Since my last visit La Bonita had opened a second outpost located in close-in North Portland. Had the original suffered as a result?

One noticeable difference is a slight bit of price creep. However, this is a highly gentrified part of Portland. White people—especially in these parts—love themselves some ethnic authenticity. Who can blame the fine folks at La Bonita for trendspotting?

The tacos were better than ever. Generously garnished fresh proteins atop delicious, handmade tortillas that seemed to even best my previous visit.

Expertly crisped asada.

Tangy and piquant pastor.

One of the better fish tacos I’ve had in recent Portland memory. A light sprinkle of queso really served this taco well.

Full metal taco jacket. Table salsas are still legit, as are the tacos, as is La Bonita’s street cred.

La Bonita

2839 NE Alberta St
Portland, OR 97211
(503) 281-3662

Violetta (at Director’s Park)

Violetta occupies an enviable location. On the Southwest end of downtown’s Director’s Park, itself southwest of Pioneer Square (and directly south from the east/west bound MAX train confluence), Violetta overlooks a wide expanse of terrace space. And a fountain! Something about bubbling water that really gets the stomach growling.

On a sunny day in downtown Portland, there may not be a better space to while away a lazy afternoon.

This presents a unique opportunity to serve up simple, ingredient-driven fare for workers toiling in the city core and tourists alike. And Violetta delivers in spades with a limited yet delicious menu of crowd-pleasing burger and fries.

The burger itself starts with a wonderfully toasted, seeded Grand Central brioche bun that bookends high-quality beef (seared to an acceptably tender medium), butter lettuce, red onion, pickles, and Tillamook white cheddar.

Solid fare, but the real queen of the garnish prom are the roasted roma tomatoes subbing for the (often mealy) fresh sliced tomatoes you’ll find draping many out-of-season burgers, as seen below:

Sometimes fresh isn’t necessarily better.

The yukon gold thin cut fries my daughter declares “are the best fries” she’d had in her life to this point. That is, until she eats her next order of fries. But I’m inclined to entertain her world view vis-a-vis these fried spuds–they were quite crispy and delicious.

Violetta to me is emblematic of a comfortably acceptable Portland ethos. Take a stock concept, in this case the prototypical quick-serve burger joint, and execute with a requisite level of panache that impresses us plebes. The burger I’ve had here rivals if not bests many of the bistro burgers served at many of our city’s fine dining establishments.

There’s a lot of chatter about the viability of this concept and the future of Violetta thereof, but I for one would be sad to see it go.

Violetta

877 SW Taylor
Portland, OR 97223
(503) 233-3663

Tacos at Ochoas Lupitas

Asada, pastor, milanesa are represented here. Lots of salsas, including an excellent cactus “paddle de gallo” that I commonly eat with utensils after the tacos themselves have been consumed (leave another dollar in the tip jar when you leave).

I am fans of this taco truck. Both sides of my split personality. That’s consensus.

Ochoas Lupitas

9549 SW Beaverton Hillsdale Hwy
Beaverton, OR 97005
(503) 841-4545

Eating San Francisco: Pho ga at Turtle Tower

Located in downtown San Francisco’s colorful Tenderloin district, Turtle Tower is well-known for its northern-style pho, in particular their pho ga. The dish came highly recommended so I figured I’d give it a whirl.


Turtle Tower (cash only) is sparsely adorned, and the table centerpiece shares this same minimalism — chopsticks, salt, pepper, fish sauce and Sriracha.

Turtle Tower’s northern-style pho features wide ribbon rice noodles (somewhere between fettucini and parpadelle width) as opposed to the thinner rice noodles commonly associated with its southern counterpart. There’s plenty of sections from all over the chicken, including lean meat interspersed with knobs and ends and bits and pieces of skin.

The salad plate does not exist. The only external garnish features sliced fresh jalapenos. The soup itself is garnished simply with fresh cilantro and chopped green onions.

Turtle Tower’s fresh rice noodles have rightfully earned much praise from those who have had the pleasure of sampling their toothsome bite.

I enjoyed the soup here, but at the end of the day I was missing those flavor profiles I commonly associate with pho. The fresh, anise-y “tang” from fresh thai basil and sawtooth herb, the crunch of bean sprouts. A rich stock more redolent with a complex spice profile. The broth at Turtle Tower is much more simpler and straightforward, more “clean”. It has it’s place — it reminds me of the pho I grew up with, when we lived overseas, and my mom could not find many of the ingredients common to her style of soup, and we had access to only wide rice noodles and a limited selection of fresh Vietnamese herbs.

I shall returns soon to Turtle Tower to try their beef pho and bun thang options.

Turtle Tower

631 Larkin St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 409-3333

Bavarian Sausage Deli

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Just due east from an entrance of Tigard’s Washington Square Mall, located on the north side of the unfortunately named Locust Road, is the Bavarian Sausage Delicatessen.

The deli features an excellent selection of freshly made German sausages and cured meats (such as legit Black Forest ham).

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In addition, the smallish market portion of the establishment features (admittedly expensive) German staples.

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Including the real deal Holyfield Haribo gummi.

In addition to the excellent meat counter, as the name suggests, this deli serves up cooked-to-order fare. There’s even a dining area with a half-dozen seats located just to the left of the register.

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This chicken sausage is no frills. Just high quality meat on a small, toasted french roll. A bit of deli mustard and really, what more do you need out of a $4 snack?

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It comes even with this excellent house made potato salad—a creamy affair with a wonderful texture that surely ranks amongst the upper echelon of Portland-area potato salads.

Bavarian Sausage Deli

8705 Southwest Locust Street
Tigard, OR 97223
(503) 892-5152

Eating Tucson: the Eegee Grinder

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Eegees is a Tucson chain known for their eponymous frozen fruit slush that is legendary amongst these parts. A wonderful, sugary sweet blend of fresh fruit and ice, it’s a perfect respite during a plus-95 degree day, of which there are many in the desert.

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Eegees is also known for their selection of sandwiches, including their famous Eegee Grinder.

This falls into the more-nostalgic-than-good territory.

But the pull of nostalgia is strong. I remember after a long day of doing nothing in high school, and, after playing Tengen R.B.I. Baseball on Super NES for an hour, we’d hit Eegees for an afternoon pre-dinner snack. I’d always come armed with a 2-for-1 coupon, and would effortlessly put away 2 8″ Eegee Grinders like they were singular canapes at a proper cocktail function. Many times I would go back for a third, if I had the extra $3.75.

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I’d always ask them to “really” load up on the hot peppers, and they were always stingy. This time, some 20 years later, they took my directive to hilariously exaggerated new heights.

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Here’s a gross bite cross-section of the Eegee Grinder. Ersatz ham and salami, ordinary pickle chips, iceberg lettuce, chopped pale tomatoes, dried herbs on stale-ish bread — what’s not to love? Memories of back-to-back Baylor/Evans homers (followed by Tony Armas at the substitute Boston Red Sox 8th spot), and dominating, sidearm-flinging Bret Saberhagen pitching feats flood the cerebral cortex. Ah, that’s the stuff.

Dinner and a show: Miho Izakaya and The Joy Formidable

A show at North Portland’s Mississippi Studio meant a Yellow Line Max ride out to Miho, a counter-service izakaya located on the west side of Interstate (just across the street from the famed Kon Tiki/karaoke haunt The Alibi).

Ahi poke featured quite a bit of skin-on English seedless cucumber, which I’m not normally used to. But it worked, especially since the dish also showcased nice, fleshy chunks of tuna with plenty of spiced soy and a hint of sesame oil. A nice rendition to be sure.

Miho advertises a tonkotsu-style ramen, and as you can see the broth features a milky whiteness one commonly associates with this style of soup. I’m quite certain Miho starts with a commercially produced base (this applies to the noodles as well) and gussies it up, which is quite common for Japanese restaurants that aren’t solely ramen-yas or known to primarily focus on this exact discipline.

But I’d have to say Miho does a competent job in the ramen gussy-up arena, with a whole egg and other solid accoutrements (including fish cake, sprouts, and a nice amount of scallion). The pork did have a bit of unexpected smokiness, and could have had more of that tender unctuousness that protein from an ideal bowl of tonkotsu delivers.

Since I exist as a creature of habit, a bowl of ramen is always accompanied by a simple shochu on the rocks. I’m not picky — just bring me whatever you got. I’m eating a big bowl of MSG, it’s not like I’m trying to gently train my subtle palette.

Tonight’s band, The Joy Formidable, from Wales, did their country proud. If I was 15 years younger and unencumbered with self-awareness, I might have slavishly thrown myself to the whim of the lead singer/guitarist only to be disregarded like spent trash. And I would have loved it.

Miho Izakaya

4057 N Interstate Ave
Portland, OR 97227-1072
(503) 719-6152

Por Que No Taqueria

Stopped by the North Mississippi location of Por Que No recently for a nice lunch.

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The ceviche comes with plenty of freshly fried tortilla chips (that seem a bit too “puffy”, to lack a better description).

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If I would have to guess, these shrimp are cooked with heat rather than marinated in citrus, which makes this a “cocteles de cameron” rather than a strict ceviche. It was certainly decent, if a bit lacking in seasoning and with a tad bit too many dominant notes of citrus and acid. I’d, however, probably order this every time I revisited Por Que No, as for $8.50 it’s a good value, all things considered. Ask for some salt.

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Taco de pescado.

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Taco de camerones. Give it to Por Que No, they know how to present a visually appealing taco.

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These rojo (guajillo) and verde salsas (serve-yourself, to the immediate left of the counter) certainly look resonant and complex, but in reality they were tepidly restrained and a bit under seasoned.

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And a fully dressed taco here is a paragon of model good looks, but as with many runway fashion models, the underlying substance can be a tad wanting.

Taqueria Por Que No seems to invite strong feelings from the pro/con forces in Portland. But this is clear: they are much appreciated. After a few wildly successful years in North Portland at their Mississippi location, they opened up a SE Hawthorne outpost that seems to be more popular than the original.

I am thankful for the responsibly sourced ingredients. Menu items here are bright and vibrant in presentation, and certainly carefully crafted. The handmade tortillas are very good. The proteins are of high quality. It’s just that the fare here lacks that certain…oomph, that primal, “exciting” quality of authentic taqueria fare that makes your taste buds perk up in quasi-revolt. Por Que No feels more like the Decemberists than Red Fang.

Also, two tacos and a small cocteles came out to $16. The seafood tacos run $3.50 (for fish and calamari—which I wanted but they were out of) and shrimp is $4, and these aren’t any larger than your typical taqueria items, so cost, at least relative to other taquerias, probably influences those firmly in the Por Que No “con” camp. You would need 3 (if not 4) shrimp tacos to sate an appetite, which places Por Que No out of the indie rock realm and catapults them more into the highbrow, “literate rock” territory.

But hey, the Decemberists are a mighty fine band with many fans, and they sell a lot of records.

Por Que No

3524 N Mississippi Ave
Portland, OR 97227
(503) 467-4149

Pastrami on rye @ Kenny & Zuke’s

In my short time on this earth, and in even my shorter time of being aware of a self-appointed Jewish deli “Council of Elders”, people seem to talk a lot of shit about pastrami and what they perceive to be simulacrums of the real thing they used to get back in their homelands of New York or Montreal or Los Angeles. This happened ad nauseum when Kenny and Zukes debuted their concept of a “modern” Jewish deli in downtown Portland a few years ago.

But I really don’t give a fuck about provincial bitchslaps. Or childhood archetypes those insufferable prigs impossibly impose upon others who might judge what a good pastrami sandwich might taste like without first fully taking into account the historical migratory patterns of the anasazi Jewish diaspora. For me: does the pastrami taste good?

And Kenny and Zukes delivers what accounts to be, in my humble estimations, a damn good pastrami sandwich on rye.

The pastrami itself is hand-sliced, thick, meaty, smoky, tender, ringed with a nice amount of unctuoss fat – everything I look for in a sandwich meat. At one point in my life I wasn’t even a big rye fan, but I can say for certainty I am officially one now and K&Z’s rye bread is fine by me. Squeeze on some brown mustard and I’m golden.

The potato salad was a bit unexpected, as instead of the usual creamy glop this was vinegar-based, and fresh and vibrant.

Kenny & Zuke’s

1038 SW Stark St
Portland, OR 97205
503.222.3354

Eastmoreland Market

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Nestled in an residential neighborhood a few blocks south of the Reed College campus, Eastmoreland Market really is an undiscovered gem in the far southern-central part of Portland’s southeastern quadrant. I presume it’s a loosely-kept secret amongst the locals, who include I assume many of the fortunate inhabitants of the palatial estates that comprise the Eastmoreland neighborhood that spills out west from the market. And I am going to go out on a limb and say these folks generally don’t have a lot of Yelp reviews under their belts.

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As the name suggests, this is a proper market. Consider it an upscale “bodega”, full of high quality brands and artisanal food finds.

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In addition, they’ve got a full-on open kitchen setup from which serious fare is finely executed.

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They make what I’ve considered to be the best sandwich I’ve had in my time in Portland — a super version of the venerable muffuletta.

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Eastmoreland’s version comes stacked atop perfectly toasted ciabatta, replete with multiple layers of fine meats and cheeses complimented with a beautifully oily, spiced olive salad studded with slices of crisp celery. This is a sandwich nonpareil.

Eastmoreland Market & Kitchen

3616 SE Knapp St
Portland, OR 97202-8349
(503) 771-1186

Dinner and a show: Biwa and the Thermals

Portland’s own Thermals played a show just last week here in Stumptown. The venue was Branx, a dank and sweaty den of inequity in Portland’s industrial inner-eastside brimming with underage grifters, B.O.-laden hipsters, and (on this night) a hapless, old loser that was yours truly.

One excellent benefit of the location is that it allowed me to start the night off right just a few blocks away at Biwa. And since it was a late Friday night punk rawk show, the late start (I’m really too old and decrepit these days to experience more than one live act in a row) meant I was seated at the counter just when late night/counter happy hour was just kicking off.

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As is customary at Biwa, things start of with a hot towel followed by a simple amuse of stewed daikon and konbu. Such a simple and wonderful tradition.

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A shochu on the rocks with a Sapporo back.

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The steak tartare at Biwa has long been a favorite of mine. In the past, it was served with thin slices of cucumber. On this occasion, small, pointed spears of crisp romaine accompanied the tartare, and I used the lettuce as a foil on which to scoop delicious nibbles of cold beef. The beef was spicier than what I’ve experience in previous visits, punched up with sesame oil and green onions, and the richness of the quail egg really tied the dish together. I love beef crudo/tartare, and I have to say Biwa’s version is one of my favorite renditions.

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On to the Biwa ramen. Biwa used to feature two types of ramen, most recently the “Biwa” version and a “Chicken” version. They’ve consolidated, I presume for expediency sakes, into one version. There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on Biwa’s version of ramen — many appear to pooh-pooh it as an erstwhile simulacrum of the real deal. I know when Biwa first opened I had difficulty accepting it as the genuine article, but the last half dozen bowls I’ve had over the last couple years have been solid, which I think results through ongoing tinkering and adjustment. The most recent version featured toothsome, curly fresh noodles and a nicely salty broth with a bit of “cloudiness” that hit nice pork notes and was ultimately satisfying. Biwa’s ramen is rather minimalist, topped with just green onions, a sheet of nori, and an egg. But oh man, that egg. It tastes like a farm fresh egg, and I would put it on a 5-to-6 minute scale that results in a perfectly soft-boiled yolk that spills unctuously into the soup. So fucking good.

I think my bill came out to $22, drinks included. Normally the ramen is $10 or so, and if you up the ante with extra toppings such as cha su pork (at $4) the price can get quite ridiculous for a bowl of soup, but as it stood the Biwa ramen was an insane steal at $5 (this pricing is only available to those who sit at the counter, and only after 9:30 pm).

Biwa continues to bring the goods.

And so do the Thermals.

Sandwich from Bunk Sandwiches

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A recent lunch-time trek for a sandwich from Portland’s venerable Bunk Sandwiches proved to be a worthy dispatch.

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Here’s the full menu.

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I picked up an Italian Meats Sandwich with Mama’s Lil’s peppers and provolone piccante. It was stuffed inside a perfectly crusty roll, and the quality of bread, fillings and garnishes immeasurably bootstrapped the overall experience.

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At $9 it’s not the cheapest sandwich you can find, but it is surely one of the bestest. Those Mama Lil’l peppers are like capsicum crack.

Bunk Sandwiches

621 Southeast Morrison Street
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 477-9515

Bunk Sandwiches on the WORLD WIDE WEB

Bunk thread on Portlandfood.org

Bunk @ Portland Food and Drink.com

Eating Tucson again: Taqueria Pico de Gallo

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A trip back to the old stomping grounds of Tucson wouldn’t be complete without a trip to Taqueria Pico de Gallo. I no longer refer to Tucson as my “hometown”, even though I spent high school (and a year of junior high), college, and four post-college years there. With my 9th year now in Portland, and 3 years living in San Diego, I’ve determined a) I’ve lived more of my sentient “adult” life outside of Tucson, and b) I am an old fucking bastard.

So back in the day I would “stomp” over to South 6th Ave. in what is actually and formally the municipality of “South Tucson”. South Tucson is completely surrounded from all areas by another, larger entity, that being the municipality of Tucson itself. South Tucson, however, is a for reals city and shit, with its own Mayor and City Council. It is thusly similar to other enclaves like Lesotho and Luxembourg, though with the highest per-capita-murder rate of any “city” in the United States, South Tucson is more like the former than the latter. That being so, I had no problem “stomping” over the mile and half to Pico de Gallo on my Schwinn Cruiser when I lived just north of South Tucson. I never felt threatened, outside of the time when I went one morning at 9am and they weren’t opened yet, in which case I was held hostage by the promise of deliciousness. Also, that bike was eventually stolen, but, get this — it actually happened a mile “north” of South Tucson, in “south” Tucson. Oh the hilarious irony! Fate, you are a cruel mistress indeed.

I’ve previously sung the praises of Pico de Gallo on these very pixelated pages prior to my last visit. (Clue: if you see “again” in any of my titles, such as in the title to this post, it literally means I’m eating there again for a second, or third, or even the “more-th” time. It’s probably the only time my words are free from exaggeration or distortion or just plain lies).

In the humble opinion of yours truly, Pico de Gallo serves up the best tacos in Southern Arizona. Here are some photos of 9 AM taco breakfast I enjoyed last year, and for measured effect these are presented from three camera different angles.

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What you just saw: pescado, asada, and cabeza. Pico de Gallo’s tacos veer towards diminutive, but what they lack in circumference they make up in heft and taste. The fillings are abundant and flavorful, and pickled onions add just the right amount of crunchy tart. Another distinguishing element are the thick masa tortillas that anchor the base of these tacos — wonderful stone-ground corn discs that are often times too fresh and delicate that they often have a difficult time staying composed in the time it takes for the four bites to polish one off. Pico de Gallo offers a flour option, but I have never felt curious enough to cheat on the corn.

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There’s only one table sauce, and you’ll get a squirt bottle with each taco order. It’s a thick, fiery, intensely red habanero salsa that makes my brain perspire within seconds. Painfully addictive, and a perfect way to help sweat out the previous night’s regret.

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Considering Tucson is a good four hours from the ocean (the Sea of Cortez is located over the Mexican border to the southwest), you might be surprised that you can find one of the truly great fish tacos I’ve had in my lifetime. in this landlocked city. I know I was, especially considering I moved back to Tucson in the late nineties after spending a few years in San Diego.

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At this price, they are practically giving their tacos away. A true gem. If you are ever in Tucson, it’s a must visit.

Taqueria Pico de Gallo

2618 S 6th Ave
Tucson, AZ 85713
(520) 623-8775

Eating Tucson again: Little Cafe Poca Cosa

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A must-visit for me each and every time I visit my old stomping grounds in Tucson is “Little” Cafe Poca Cosa, the charming, diminutive outpost of the venerable Cafe Poca Cosa. The original restaurant serves decidedly “upscale” Mexican and Southwestern cuisine, while its little cousin seats only a few dozen and has a smaller, more concentrated menu of well executed dishes. But in keeping with the rich Poca Cosa tradition, the plates at the Little outlet are still vibrant and full of color and fresh flavors.

My office for a year was located just steps across the alleyway from their original downtown location, and I ate there at least a couple times a week. One thing I appreciated was that Little Poca Cosa (since their lunch platters consisted of mostly of slowly braised meats, and rice and beans were already available on the breakfast plates) served their full menu even for breakfast. And at 9:15 a.m. in the morning, music (world/latino music with a social justice bent) would pump in from the stereo system at wonderfully uncomfortable levels. This fit into my savory breakfast worldview quite nicely, and also cemented my preferred lazy routine — rolling into the office, responding to a few emails, finding a couple things on the Internet to outrage me, and then heading out for a spicy bit to eat — that I still practice with great zeal to this day.

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Unfortunately this is now not the case. Change can be hard…but good thing I came for lunch!

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My go-to dish was always the pork (“cochinito”) chili colorado. My most recent visit found that LPC has changed the dish up a bit, no longer serving cubes of braised meat but rather pork that has a “pulled” consistency.

It was still excellent.

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The meal begins as usual with freshly fried tortilla chips and a safe (in terms of spice level) and fresh tomato salsa. You’ll also get your own very own warmer full of precious little corn tortillas.

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The beans are always well executed, and a touch of salt is needed to really bring out the flavor of the perfectly cooked pintos.

My preferred plan of attack is to roll the chili colorado into tacos (with salsa spooned on top), then the beans, and then I douse the salad with herbed dressing Poca Cosa features on the table.

Then, after polishing off the fruit, I mix the rice with the residual chili sauce and dressing (which lends a crisp, salad-y, acid-tinged finish), and inhale every last grain.

Little Poca Cosa

151 N Stone Ave
Tucson, AZ 85707

Eating Tucson: carne seca @ La Indita

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Carne seca translates literally to “dried meat”. A Sonoran dish indigenous to the Tucson area, it’s generally air-dried, shredded beef “jerky” that has been reconstituted (by adding some sort of liquid base) and prepared in some fashion. There are a few restaurants in the area known for their carne seca, probably most famously El Charro, which purportedly dries their carne seca on the roof at their downtown location, utilizing the punishing Arizona sun to their advantage.

It is one of the things I miss the most about Tucson, and whenever I return to this city I indulge in this hard-to-come-by (at least outside of Tucson*) TYPE O’ MEAT.

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La Indita has the benefit of being just a few hundred yards from my in-law’s home off of historic 4th Avenue. By most respects, the understated restaurant speaks Mexican in the Southern Arizonan Sonoran parlance—mainly platter style, with sides of rice and beans.

The interior is rather spartan. Some say “divey” and obsess about cleanliness and wonder aloud regarding the latest health department score. These people are killjoys and have sex (if at all) exclusively in the missionary position.

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Once you’re seated you’re greeted by your very own pitcher of excellent table salsa accompanied by thick, freshly fried tortilla chips.

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Their version of carne seca is a “wet” version—or at least it was the last time I visited. Wet in this instance, as you can see, simply means the carne seca has been braised in a savory red sauce. In El Charro’s version the beef is reconstituted just enough to achieve a “dry” quality and then stir-fried with chilies, tomatoes and onions.

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The tortilla often served on the side at Sonoran restaurants in Tucson is flour. However, they are vastly different from the commercial, overly fluffy, flour pablum you’re likely to encounter at your average supermarket. A freshly made Tucson-style flour tortilla is generally comically large (about the size of a large pizza), composed of enough lard to give it a sinfully “crispy” texture, and usually come to the table folded.

A quality flour tortilla, such as the one served at La Indita, is sprinkled with pockets of char from direct contact with a flat grill.

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And is in some spots deliciously thin and translucent.

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A roll-your-own carne seca soft Tucson taco is a great joy to behold.

La Indita

622 N 4th Ave
Tucson, AZ 85705
(520) 792-0523

* Being that Phoenix is only 2 hours north of Tucson, which itself is only 1 hour north of Sonora, I imagine you can score carne seca in that metropolitan area. But I consider Phoenix a cross between Dubai and Dallas, a sprawling, paved expanse of soul-crushing anti-matter, and I’m not sure of what can possibly exist in that void.

Coppa Steak @ Toro Bravo

Another electrical guitar-driven rock-n-roll music concert at the Wonder Ballroom means another pre-show nosh at Toro Bravo. I am a creature of repetition.

Things started off with a Basque Kiss—Monopolowa vodka, Txakolina wine, apricot liqueur, peach bitters, lemon.

I hadn’t had the Coppa Steak in a couple years, and considering I was about to witness the frenetic, punk art-rock stylings of Brooklyn’s Les Savy Fav, I felt red meat would properly gird my loins for the impending sonic assault. The coppa steak is sliced to order from an entire smoked beef shoulder, layered atop olive oil-poached fingerlings and chopped olives, and served with a healthy dollop of almond-y salbitxada sauce. A smoky dish of meaty satisfaction.

Bun Bo Hue Minh

Bun Bo Hue Minh has no relation to Binh Minh, the venerable banh mi shop with locations in NE and SE Portland, or Pho Binh Minh, the erstwhile pho joint in Tigard with attitude problems. It’s all a bit confusing, but one thing the Vietnamese people are known for, along with degenerate gambling and screaming into phone handsets for no apparent reason, is a lack of brand self-awareness and being innately incapable to create singularly unique nomenclature. On my mother’s side, I have at least three cousins named “Duc Nguyen”.

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The location, just east of the 205 on SE Division, is kind of a dive, which for Vietnamese soup joint is often considered a redeeming quality.

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That and the chili-spiked fish sauce condiment that is on the table informs you that this is the right place for a good bowl of soup.

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As the name suggests, Bun Bo Hue Minh specializes in the central Vietnamese soup that features rice noodles (fatter than the vermicelli common to pho or bun dishes), and showcases a deeply flavored, fiery broth seasoned with chilis and lemongrass.

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And Bun Bo Hue Minh certainly does produce a solid rendition. The broth—strong and assertive—is chock full of the meaty goodness you expect out of a great bowl of bun bo hue, including slices of beef shank, peppery cha lua, pork knuckles, and, for the bold, cubes of congealed pork blood. If you come here only for the namesake specialty, you’ll do good. I have to say, in regards to this particular dish, Ngoc Han Bun Bo Hue delivers the unrivaled deliciousness in these parts, but Bun Bo Hue Minh is no slouch (along with “Bun Bo Hue”, further down south on SE 82nd near Clackamas — I know, it’s very confusing).

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But BBHM also rolls a tight salad roll—fresh and well handled. At $3.50, two of these are great value. The dual chive backbone that runs the length of the roll informs you that someone cares. As I always sub nuoc cham instead of the (more traditional) hoison, and I appreciate it when a Vietnamese restaurant aggressively seasons their dipping sauce, but I always spike it with garlic chili sauce. If your Vietnamese doesn’t have this on the table, you’re going to the wrong place.

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I also enjoyed the bun rieu here. The soup came with a fair amount of meat/seafood “loaf”, and the broth had a great balance of flavors, pungent with seafood flavor and redolent of deep tomato. Bun rieu is typically a soup I avoid in a restaurant (my mom’s version was a household favorite growing up) and in my experience it’s an afterthought at most Viet restaurants that try to cover all the bases. As a general rule I won’t order it unless a place is known for it (the only reason I came here to order it was on the strength of Extra MSG’s report at Portlandfood.org), but BBHM delivers a dependable version.

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Above: The busser hates my kind.

I’m not sure what was up my first very visit (when I ordered bun rieu), but I was only given a sparse salad plate of cilantro, sprouts, and lime by a busser. Bun rieu absolutely demands mints (spearmint, parilla, lemon balm) so I had to flag down my server and insist that this treasonous crime against humanity be addressed immediately. I’m not sure if the busser thought perhaps I wasn’t part Vietnamese, but in any regard I accused him of racism and cursed his family, including his pets. We exchanged fisticuffs on Division street, and subsequently a pop-locking/breakdance battle. Nobody won (nobody ever wins). I assume this faux pas de garni was simply a one-time oversight, and ensuing visits have proved this to be the case. But as overly enthusiastic Ron Paul teabaggers abundantly proved this past election cycle, don’t ever allow anybody to TREAD ON YOU.

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Above: What I made them bring me, as the U.S. Constitution mandates an abundant garnish platter (Article 7, Section 3, Paragraph 2), just like it says slaves are 60% human.

Bun Bo Hue Minh

8560 Southeast Division Street
Portland, OR 97266-1553
(503) 777-1917

Bun Bo Hue Minh on the WORLD WIDE WEB

Portlandfood.org

Bun Moc @HA&VL…again

Every Saturday I go to HA&VL, including last Saturday, I go into the small restaurant intent on trying their version of Bun Bo Hue, which I see others eating and which always looks fantastic. But the lure of the bun moc (and the fact I can get excellent versions of BBH at the two places that specialize in this soup just within a stone throw’s of HA&VL at any time) always wins me over. Chock full of peppery pork meatballs, cha lua, fish balls, and slices of pork ringed with gelatinous fatty goodness, it always delivers satisfaction on a level that is now legendary.

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I love how HA&VL has evolved from its original roots of a coffee/sandwich shop, and now has a fully panoply of on-table condiments, including chopped bird chilies soaking in fish sauce, which allows me to spike alternate spoonfuls with tiny flavorful umami heat bombs throughout the course of devouring this delicious soup.

HA&VL Sandwiches

2738 SE 82nd Ave Ste 103
Portland, OR 97266
(503) 772-0103

Jimmy John’s

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Jimmy John’s is a national chain that I had never heard of. That is, before they introduced a location in Beaverton off Cedar Hills.

A quick search online shows that many people sings their praises. I’ve stopped by a few times when I’ve been in the area to get an Italian sandwich as a snack.

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Verdict? It’s a (slight) step up from your Subways and Quiznos (and for Portlanders, Big Town Hero), most notably due to the quality of meats and fillings (though I’d prefer a different style of hot peppers, but it doesn’t stop me from ordering extra peppers). The bread is weak, but still that’s a fairly ok $5 sandwich.

Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches

2790 Southwest Cedar Hills Boulevard
Beaverton, OR 97005
(503) 626-4300

Eating Los Angeles: Animal

I was in Los Angeles late last year, and had the pleasure to spend a night on the town with the lovely and the talented LA food blogging couple extraordinaire, Jeni of Oishii Eats and her husband Dylan of Eat Drink & Be Merry. They took me to the aptly named “Animal” on Fairfax Avenue, a restaurant with an indie cred (worn proudly on sleeve) that trades in the same lo-fi execution/hi-fi ingredient approach that many Portlanders would find quite familiar.

I’ve thought about this meal on occasion since then, but it wasn’t until I ran across a few photos Dylan shared with me that I truly remembered how delicious this meal was.

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Fluke with grape and yuzu granita, mint, serrano chilies, and pea shoots.

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Pork belly with kimchi, with a chili-infused soy, garnished with peanuts. The kimchi reminded more of the pickles you’d get with a banh mi sandwich, and this gave the dish more of a Vietnamese feel than Korean.

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Fried pig’s tail, with mustard and zucchini pickles.

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Fried sweetbreads and hen of the woods mushrooms on top of creamed spinach, garnished with capers and grapefruit. This dish really sang to me; earthy, savory, and tart.

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Oxtail poutine. This was the star of the night, and I’m not normally a huge poutine fan. The fries were perfectly crisp and delicious, and the oxtail was melting, and the gravy rich with oxtail beefiness. Just the right amount of fine white cheddar.

Animal

435 N. Fairfax Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
(323) 782-9225

Fast Blood and Toro Bravo

Frightened Rabbit at The Wonder Ballroom last weekend.

And a show at Wonder always means a pre-show meal at the Toro Bravo bar.

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A citrus-based cocktail I don’t quite remember the details of, outside that it had a very unique and super tasty pickled cherry hiding at the bottom of the glass.

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The spicy octopus stew, one of my favorites. And boy, is this seriously spicy. I was at first disappointed the prep of this dish had changed; instead of baby octopus and their tentacles lurking within the piquant tomato stew, a portion of a large octopus (cut on a bias ) were laid over top. Any apprehension was quickly erased. This was some delicious, expertly grilled cephalopod.

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Calamari a la plancha, on top of a white bean and chorizo stew. This wasn’t at all like I expected, as I also expected a full squid carcass grilled on a metal plate. And the white beans appeared to be not white at all. But man, this was delicious. I inhaled the dish, and the beans were so creamy and savory I could eat it for breakfast on toast.

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I even ran into the band before the show, and bought them a round of drinks. These Scottish lads drink shots of Jameson.

Pho An Sandy

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I’ve been going to this place for nearly eight years, back when it was Pho Oregon “West” (despite being only a mile from the other Pho Oregon at NE 82nd Ave).

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The interior is spartan. You are automatically rationed the standard beverages.

It took a name change, and a format change, plus Extra MSG’s vetting of the assorted grilled meat platter, that got me thinking about anything but pho at this place.

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But why would I? I’ve long contended this location on NE Sandy, when it existed as a namesake to the NE 82nd version, had the better bowl of soup of the two doppelgängers. Since the obvious switch of ownership (and name, and staff, who are now dressed in lovely white uniforms) a few years back, I had no reason to really look past the first turn of the first menu page, the page where various permutations of pho are listed in perfunctory uniformity, the same list xeroxed and sampled by every pho joint from Chula Vista to Bellingham.

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The salad platter at Pho An Sandy, as it was back when it was Pho Oregon, is unparalleled in Portland. You will always get more than enough <em>ngo gai</em>, aka culantro aka sawtooth herb, no matter how lily white your skin or accent may be.

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The broth at Pho An Sandy I believe is one of our city’s most well balanced, though—as with any soup joint with high turnover that is constantly bootstrapping their stockpot—it can vary in the amount of spice, clarity, beefiness, sweetness, etc.

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The braised meats (chin, nam) are very consistent.

All in all, a very excellent pho, served quickly and without fuss. What more could you ask for? Well, Pho An Sandy also has a wide and varied menu that expands beyond the perfunctory soup offerings.

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Including this “dac biet” mixed grill platter, which features bo la lot (beef wrapped in betel leaves), grilled lemongrass pork (topped with sauteed shallots and chopped peanuts)…

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…grilled sugarcane shrimp…

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…and nem nuong (pork patty/sausage)

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As is Pho An Sandy’s MO, the salad platter that accompanied this impressive phalanx of deliciously grilled meats was generous, overflowing with spearmint, perilla, rau ram, cucumber, and lettuce.

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The general idea with Vietnamese meats is to roll your own (using the carefully constructed quenelles of rice noodles served with the meats as a starch foundation), thus you’re given a bowl of warm water and dried rice paper sheets…

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…and a bowl of nuoc cham dipping sauce (always add a dollop of the fresh chili garlic sauce on the table—you’ll be thankful).

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A delicious strip of nem nuong about in pre-rolled state.

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I can roll a fat blunt.

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Come to daddy, sugarcane shrimp.

Pho An Sandy on THE WORLD WIDE WEB
Portlandfood.org

Pho An Sandy

6236 Northeast Sandy Boulevard
Portland, OR 97213
(503) 281-2990

Sanchez Taqueria…they’ve expanded

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All 1.5 readers of this blog know I’m a big fan of Sanchez Taqueria, Tigard’s very own taste of Mexico that churns out delicious meats wrapped in hand-made pillows of fresh tortilla goodness (aka the “taco”).

Many of these readers will be interested to discover that Sanchez has expanded, usurping the square footage once occupied by (what I assume was) an erstwhile BBQ joint that formerly shared the same building.

Sanchez now bills itself as a “panaderia”…

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…and in this case the strength of this size alone legitimizes their claim, even if their baked goods at the time were a bit sparse.

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Ordering is done at the front counter, as before, the operative difference being that the front counter now occupies it’s own room (equipped with seating for to-go orders) at the very south side of the taqueria.

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The interior is now quite cavernous, now spanning two separate rooms, each one singularly larger than the previous dining area altogether.

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Tacos.

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Asada. Wasn’t as crisp as I’ve had previous visits. It’s consistently very crisp, so I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt.

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Excellent pastor this time. Just a very tiny bit too sweet than where my tastes lay, but excellent and crisped up better than the asada this day.

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Full metal taco jacket.

Sanchez Taqueria

13050 Southwest Pacific Highway
Tigard, OR 97223-5072
(503) 684-2838

Bun moc @HA&VL

I hadn’t been to HA&VL on a Saturday for some time, so I was due for a visit.

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Saturday’s feature is “Bun Moc Ha Noi”—pepper pork meatball noodle soup, laced with black pepper & slices of pork in pork broth.

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The salad plate at HA&VL is not the largest.

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But it really is just enough to make the entire bowl come together. In addition to the pork meatballs and Vietnamese spam, the soup is garnished with green onions, cilantro, rau ram, fragrantly fried shallots, a large, fried fish ball.

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And lurking underneath are a few slices of this excellent pork, rimmed with a layer of gelatinous, chewy fat that’s so nice to chomp on.

I don’t know how they do this, but this bowl of bun moc was better than the half-dozen bowls I’ve had in the past. At HA&VL, the best bowl of soup always seems to be the last bowl of soup you’ve eaten here.

HA&VL Sandwiches

2738 SE 82nd Ave Ste 103
Portland, OR 97266
(503) 772-0103

HA&VL on the WORLD WIDE WEB

pdx Plate
Portlandfood.org

HA&VL Sandwiches on Yelp

It is now our official policy to not link to Yelp as that website is a depraved wasteland populated by deranged homunculi.

Eating Tucson: Lerua’s tamales

I recently ventured back to “The Old Pueblo”, aka Tucson, Arizona.

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These tamales from Lerua’s were waiting for us thanks to the father-in and mother-in-law.

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A fine specimen of a tamale, if a bit on the drier side. These were red chili beef tamales. The paler version (on the right) were green chili (no meat).

With an ample layer of house made salsa, these tamales became really excellent.

Lerua’s Fine Mexican Food

2005 East Broadway Boulevard
Tucson, AZ 85719-5937
(520) 624-0322

Ramen @Biwa

Stopped by Biwa recently for a bowl of soup.

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One bonus of dining at Biwa, in addition to a hot towel that warms the soul, is the amuse you get of marinated sea vegetable. Just a couple bites to start the meal off right.

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Biwa Ramen, with the egg option. The egg has that great consistency that’s a bit beyond soft- but appropriately short of hard-boiled.

When Biwa first opened, I was eager to check it out for the ramen alone. While I loved everything else about Biwa, the ramen fell a bit short.

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But they’ve retooled dish, and the noodles are consistently curly and toothsome, and the broth that comprises their namesake ramen is deeply flavorful, redolent of roasted onion and simmered pork, most comparable I would estimate to a dark shoyu stock. My last couple visits the broth featured little bits of fat that added a bit of delicious, unctuous richness. Biwa also features a Chicken Ramen that has a much lighter broth—I’ve had it once and found it fine, but personally I would opt for the complexity of the Biwa ramen each and every time.

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The ramen at Biwa is garnished a bit sparsely (with just green onion and a thin sheet of nori), and once you retool it with optional add-ons (egg for $1 and/or chasyu pork at $2 – the pork looks great, check out Sauce Supreme’s photo) it can become a somewhat expensive bowl of soup. But right now, unless there’s some new option I’m not aware of, I think Biwa is churning out the best bowl of Japanese-style soup in our fair burg.

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While not very prototypical in terms of style and execution, I would say it’s a distinctly Portland take on ramen (above is a shot of the “parking lot”) and I’m officially a fan.

Biwa

215 Southeast 9th Avenue
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 239-8830

Biwa on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Portlandfood.org
pdx Plate
SauceSupreme

Jade Patisserie and Teahouse

Jade Patisserie and Teahouse is a charming, family-run establishment located on that equally charming strip of 13th Avenue in Sellwood that boasts antique shops and other things white people like.

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Jade is owned and operated by a Vietnamese family that executes straightforward, homestyle southeast Asian favorites with an emphasis on bright, impeccably fresh flavors.

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Ordering is done at the counter, before an impressively composed, handwritten chalkboard menu rife with solid typography. I want these fonts.

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The salad rolls are available with lemongrass tofu, or shrimp and chicken. Unlike the goi cuon you’ll find at standard Vietnamese greasy spoons, these have no noodles and feature a higher ratio of vegetables and herbs. For $5, it’s a huge order.

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These are some of the best salad rolls I’ve had in town, tightly packed with fresh thai basil leaves that give them an anise-y snap. The fact that the tofu itself is seasoned beyond being simply fried is a touch that does not go unnoticed.

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The won ton soup is a pleasant rendition, with a mild but flavorful broth. I definitely appreciated the greens and slices of lean char sui.

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The dumplings themselves are on the diminutive side—you won’t confuse these with the overstuffed wontons at Kenny’s Noodle House—but overall it’s a satisfying dish.

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The “Stir Fried Rice Noodles” here are nothing really more than stir fried rice noodles. The peanuts denote that it could be a sort of “pad thai” but it’s not trying to be this at all—just a mild, enjoyable noodle dish, if somewhat on the bland side. You’ll want to ask for some chili oil or Siracha to spike it up. But the composure of the dish speaks to what Jade is all about: fresh, simple, and comforting.

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Which brings up another distinction. While Jade Patisserie and Teahouse is a full-fledged restaurant, it has a very casual feel. Unlike most Vietnamese restaurants you won’t find condiments (or chopsticks and spoons, for that matter) at each table.

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This shot above is of the wonderful nook tucked into the far end of the restaurant (that features Connect Four).

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I love the char sui hum bao here. It’s flat on either end unlike the dome-shaped buns you’re more likely to encounter. A much greater protein-to-dough ratio is the result, which in this case is a very good thing, as the hum bao is brimming with flavorful chopped bbq pork.

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The beef stew here (bo kho) is one of the better versions of beef stew you’ll find in any restaurant, Vietnamese or otherwise. This is down-home cooking, rich, deep and satisfying.

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If you’re anything like me you’ll be busting your gut to sop up every last drop with crusty french bread—just like at home.

Jade Patisserie and Teahouse

7912 Southeast 13th Avenue

Portland, OR 97202

(503) 477-8985

Jade Patisserie and Teahouse on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

WineGuy World justly sings praises

As does KAB

Denise loves it too!

Road Trip: LA Ramen Edition…Daikokuya

Last fall I had the good fortune to attend a conference and spend some quality time in downtown Los Angeles. Even though I lived in Southern California for seven non-contiguous years of my life, I never really spent much time in the densest parts of LA, much less downtown (outside of the occasional drive-through).

As an aside, I was actually quite taken by downtown LA. I walked a lot, and the weather was beautiful. My hotel was just around the corner Seven Grand, a dark and first-rate whiskey bar that would be instantly be my favorite place to drink in Portland. Despite the axiomatic pre-conception of Los Angeles being a city where the automobile is king, I was quite surprised by the breadth and punctuality of the public transit (The Dart ran multiple routes that criss-crossed the downtown circumference, some every 5 minutes, with a fare of only twenty five cents(!), and the convention center was well served by commuter train).

As my hotel was just a mile away from Little Tokyo, I was excited to indulge in some ramen. Mr. Sauce Supreme (himself a Los Angeles expat and a soon-to-be repat) over drinks at Beaker and Flask (a few nights before my trip) recommended Daikokuya. My first night in LA I shared a wonderful meal with EatDrink&BeMerry and Oishii Eats, and they similarly gave Daikokuya high marks. EatDrink&BeMerry gave me a tip: a few self-serve dollops of the pureed fresh garlic condiment takes the bowl to a whole other level.

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As I stood amongst the throngs at the Staples Center, eagerly awaiting admittance in order to be golden showered with marketing bunkum and subjected to hours of rote proselytism, my mind raced. Here I was, amongst scores of wannabe capitalistic schlemiels with no ambition other than swallowing corporate jizz, while all I could think about was drinking from the sweet fountain that is a porky, cloudy Tonkotsu stock. Who was the bigger slave to the master? These people had passion, drive, and ambition, with shared, multivariate, outside interests in the arts and academia. I exist largely in order to consume salt.

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It was with this heavy heart that I trudged towards Little Tokyo after my first morning’s sessions had completed.

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On my way I noticed the Kogi Korean taco truck has quickly spawned a boldly colored cottage industry.

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Even the Japanese taco was being touted…

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…at a place appropriately named “LA Chicken” that apparently serves chicken that tastes like a luxury Japanese sedan.

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Daikokuya itself is a small storefront on a busy stretch of 1st Avenue, just north of an entertaining maze of hilariously disjointed Japanese businesses that align themselves loosely into a mall of sorts.

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I could wander these avenues for hours in tacit wonderment.

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After walking over an hour with the sun beating down upon my neck, the cold Tsukemen’s sale pitch appealed to me, but there was no question what I was here for.

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It was the Daikoku Ramen.

This was high noon, and there was a line out the door.

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However, since I was dining solo, my name was called just 10 minutes after putting it on the waiting list, and I was parked at end of the counter, which gave me a bird’s eye view of the cooks working their magic in the small kitchen.

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The initial reaction after this huge bowl of soup is placed in front of your person is to the prevalence of green onion. Trust me, it works. The guy who was seated adjacent to me as I was mid-way through my bowl ordered his Daikoku Ramen without green onions. A part of me died, and I’ve since held white hipsters with chain wallets in generally low regard.

The soup also features a nice amount of mung bean sprouts, slivers of fibrous menma.

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Togarashi is freely available. Daikokuya must read my mind; this is the first thing I ask for anytime I’m brought a bowl a ramen.

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Pureed garlic and pickled ginger sits on the table (or counter), allowing you to tailor the soup to your tastes. I can’t emphasize how fucking awesome this is.

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The garlic goodness.

So how to describe this soup? The intense, pork bone Tonkotsu-style, creamy broth? The marinated, soft-boiled egg? The incredible tender and deeply flavorful kurobuta pork belly?

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The curly, toothsome, handmade fresh noodles?

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I’ll let the copy speak for itself. I will, however, add an official “goddamned mutherfuckin’ amen”. Daikoku Ramen is a masterpiece, a fugue of deliciousness, an experience that begins innocently with the prosaic act of accessorizing of your soup, then plunges you into an atavistic ingurgitation, and culminates in a lack of self-awareness as you raise the immense bowl above your head to lustfully extract every last drop of golden nectar.

I needed a smoke after this soup. And a nap.

When I awoke the next morning, my mind was consumed with the thought of returning to Daikokuya for another bowl of manna.

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I cross-referenced the hours from a photo on my iPhone and was a bit forlorn that I would have to wait until 11AM.

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Of course I was there when it opened.

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The amount of green onion from yesterday’s bowl was not a fluke. And EatDrink&BeMerry’s sage advice rang true—I went with even another dollop of fresh garlic on this morning.

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That’s a hawt (and disturbing) egg moneyshot.

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The pork belly. Oh the pork belly. “Fall apart tender” is tautological when speaking of the kurobuta pork belly at Daikokuya.

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A souvenir of success.

Little T American Baker

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Little T American Baker is a bakery/sandwich/espresso shop located on SE Division.

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Its stark, modern interior features a rectangularly framed display case showing off the daily baked goods.

Including an excellent, crusty baguette. The breads at Little T are a treat.

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A well-scribbled, chalkboard menu describes the daily offerings. The sandwiches options are mostly are static, but do seem to have a bit of variance from what I’ve seen.

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Texas Cowgirl. Egg and cheddar on Sally Nunn (sort of a Texas Toast – $5.50). An excellent breakfast sandwich, cooked perfectly. A bonus about Little T is that they serve breakfast sandwiches on the weekend well into the afternoon.

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The “Italian hoagie on seeded baguette” ($6.75) is not the most loaded of Italian style hoagies, but it hit the spot.

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I personally would like more “tang” in the form of peppers, onions, maybe a tapenade. Perfectly fine, and the seeded baguette is a nice foil for the high-quality meats and cheese.

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This “Ham and cheese and pretzel bread” ($4.50) is quite scrumptious. A pleasant snack, or, in this case, a sizable meal for my daughter, who for the first time ate an entire commercially purchased sandwich.

Little T American Baker

2600 SE Division St
Portland, OR 97202-1253
(503) 238-3458

Little T American Baker on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Official Website
Portlandfood.org
ExtraMSG

Ramen @Hakatamon

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I’ve made repeated visits to Southwest Portland’s Hakatamon (located in the Uwajimaya Asian Market Superstore prefecture of near-Beaverton) since they introduced their Hakata-style tonkotsu broth ramen dishes some 20 months ago.

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The cha-su pork here continues to be really excellent. This visit I’ve found the stock to be a bit too restrained…somewhat tepid. Garnishes included konbu, pickled ginger, green onions. sesame seeds. And of course the delicious kurobuta pork. The noodles I’ve determined need work. Too straight and pasta-like for my tastes. A fresh, toothsome, curly noodle, combined with refinement to the stock, could make this a more satisfying and complete bowl. Nevertheless, personally this is a good option for ramen in the Portland metro area.

Kenny’s Noodle House

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Kenny’s is a new-ish Hong Kong-style noodle soup house on Portland’s southeast side, on the north side of Powell (just across the street from Best Baguette).

They’ve had a grand opening sign in front of their establishment for about 5 months now. That’s marketing.

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The interior is clean and faux modern. Small and cozy.

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You’ll get a nice cup of tea once you sit down. I tend to only drink one cup of tea, so I prefer a freshly poured, singular hot cup if tea to the metallic teapot service (and I imagine these teapots are constantly repurposed).

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Condiment tray features standard condiments–red vinegar, white and black pepper, and the ubiquitous (and fiery) chili paste.

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Default bowl of wonton soup.

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Disgustingly posed photo of a half-eaten wonton cross-section.

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From my post at Portlandfood.org:

“I like this place. It’s comfort food. The default garnish on the wanton noodle soups are sparse, with only a few slivers of the white of a green onion, but I ask them to add some bok choy and they happily oblige. And of course, the oily chili paste and dashes of white pepper complete the bowl.

“…the dumplings are large and stuffed with entire shrimp, and the minced pork filling is mild, but fine, and it doesn’t have that slight “off” or “gamey” taste I’ve experienced (maybe from heavy handedness with 5-spice or Shaoxing wine) at other places, like the Chinatown Good Taste location.”

Kenny’s Noodle House

8305 SE Powell Blvd
Portland, OR 97266
(503) 771-6868

Kenny’s Noodle House on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Portlandfood.org

PDX Plate

50 Plates

50 Plates—a newish, modern Pearl District eatery—has somewhat of a kitchsy concept. Its cutesy menu inhabits the murky hinterlands between playful and hackneyed cornball, sort of like HBO’s True Blood.

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Castroville Artichoke Rolls. “goat cheese, roasted garlic & artichoke filling, avocado ranch”

These sounded quite intriguing, though what we received was incompatible with my expectations. These were more like eggrolls, and were disappointingly on the small side. But they were fine.

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50/50. “aged cheddar on tomato bread, roasted tomato soup with oregano”

This is essentially a take on the childhood comfort staple of grilled cheese and Campbell’s tomato soup.

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Unlike the overly processed banality of the latter, 50 Plates’ take on tomato soup was full of vibrant, intense tomato flavors, simple and delicious. The sandwich was a grilled cheese sandwich. It was eaten.

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T.J. Caesar. “hearts of romaine, charred corn, cherry tomatoes, fried croutons and cave-aged gouda”

I’m usually not a big fan of “non-standard” Caesar salads, and despite the initials in the name (“T.J.” = Tijuana) that implies some sort of lineage to the birthplace of original Caesar, this salad certainly qualifies as non-traditional. Nicely dressed and composed, the dressing itself was too mild to be considered proper “Caesar” but the salad was enjoyable nonetheless.

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The seafood chowder (“Today’s Chowdah“—implying naturally that a different chowder is featured each day) was quite good, featuring plump mussels, clams, and nice chunks of tender white fish in a rich broth not overly thick and maudlin like many seafood chowders can be.

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Sliders are ordered at 50 Plates a la carte, and each separate slider came with a flag to distinguish its sovereignty. This must be a tedious step for any cook. Plus, it’s needlessly nationalistic. I live by the motto “hamburguesas sin fronteras”.

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Lil’ Kahuna Burger. “Kobe beef, Canadian bacon, pineapple, & teriyaki glaze”

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Old Faithful “Kobe beef, Tillamook cheddar, tomato jam”

As you can see each miniature burger was expertly constructed, and the flavors were spot on. My quibble was with the size of the sliders. They were literally about two bites, diminutive even for burgers in slider form (and at $4 a pop, no bargain either). You would probably need to eat four sliders to properly get your grub on.

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The fresh-cut fries were good, and the house made ketchup (“Nikki’s Ketchup”) was a terrific, tangy complement.

So in addition to combining two overwrought beef trends (“Kobe” beef and “sliders”), these burgers were ultimately a smidgeon too twee for me, I suppose. When I want to get my burger on I’m more in mood for Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run than Belle and Sebastian’s Boy with the Arab Strap.

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A platter of biscuits and assorted starches accompany your meal at 50 Plates, including a savory, crumbly cheddar biscuit that my daughter loved dunking in her bowl of “chowdah”. Major bonus points for going beyond the perfunctory bread basket.

50 Plates

333 Northwest 13th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209-3144
(503) 228-5050

The Schnitzelwich

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I’ve read interweb notices over the past few years that have sung the praises of the Schnitzelwich. Posts by Portland’s own recipe blogger extraordinaire Michelle@Je Mange la Ville and the fine folks at Portlandfood.org. What’s not to dream of? I remember living in Turkey when I was 15 years old and I discovered a sandwich shop of note and decided that fresh, breaded protein sandwiched between two fine slices of bread can be a beautiful thing.

However, since I don’t find myself downtown during lunch much at all, the Schnitzelwich has long eluded me. But recently I had some business downtown to tend to, and was fortunate enough to swing by the Tabor food cart to before heading back to work and sample this culinary curiosity finally, once and for all.

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The Tabor cart itself is one of downtown’s more striking and creative pods, wearing a distinctive DIY ethic on its sleeves.

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By the way, the cart does serve other foodstuffs that is not the Schnitzelwich. One day I might be lucky enough to eat all these as well.

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But the Schnitzelwich is what we are concerning ourselves with. And man, what a sandwich. A perfectly crispy shell of delicious breading encases a tenderized pork filet. And it is huge–the entire filet spills out from all sides of the Grand Central ciabatta roll (a perfect foil) in which it is sandwiched and is the size of small woman’s foot.

The bread is schmeared on either side with a mild ajvar chili relish and horseradish spread. A couple crisp, green romaine leaves complete the garnish. My only quibble would be with the abundance of the horseradish, but that’s simply a personal preference and I would ask for a light spread my next time.

Crabflake soup @HA&VL

I found myself with a day off on a recent Thursday. I considered this a capricious stroke of serendipity (even if it was Thanksgiving, which happens on Thursday every year as long as I can remember), because this day is when the warm and generous family that run SE Portland’s HA & VL feature their incredible “Crabflake Noodle Soup”.

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It’s difficult to describe just how good this soup is.

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Likewise, it’s impossible to overestimate how two perfectly cooked quail eggs transports this meal to an astral plane beyond Shirley MacLaine levels of deliciousness. The broth is not so much a liquid as it is a viscous, primordial sludge with a 10W-40 grade. A distillation of briny crab and seafood essences, imparting a thick umami translucence like liquid gold.

Fat, chewy rice noodles provide the starchy counterpoint to the deep and intensely flavorful “broth”, bolstered by gossamer flakes of boiled crab meat.

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The garnish at HA&VL provides just enough lemon verbena, Vietnamese balm, shiso, julienned lettuce, and the right amount of fiery chopped thai bird chilies (bathing in fish sauce and vinegar) to properly spike the punch and round out dish.

Tacos @Taqueria Sanchez

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A recent trip to Tigard’s own Taqueria Sanchez confirmed that they’re still delivering excellent tacos on the 99W.

I’ve long been a fan of their tortillas, and the last couple visits have revealed that perhaps they either have changed up their recipe or perhaps changed their process. These tortillas seem to lack a slight bit of “sponginess”. These were still excellent, hand-made tortillas, but they did seem to have more of a “char” to them.

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Asada.

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The fish is always a crowd pleaser.

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Wonderfully crispy pastor.

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Full metal jacket taco. At Sanchez, the verde has more heat than its red counterpart. Both combine to cause a fair amount of scalp sweating every time I leave.

Sanchez Taqueria

13050 SW Pacific Hwy
Tigard, OR 97223
Phone: (503) 684-2838

Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion: Downtown LA

I was recently in Los Angeles for a conference. I decided a much needed respite from listening to a company lie about their software all day involved hitting happy hour at the Roy’s that was a few blocks from the convention center. Lucky for me they had food, drinks, AND a television that was broadcasting that evening’s National Football contest between the Packers of Green Bay (Wisconsin) and the Vikings of Minnesota.

Sliders. Officially “Teppanyaki Grilled Beef Sliders with Chipolte Aioli & Sweet Potato Chips”.

Poke. Officially “Yellow Fin Ahi ‘Poketini’ – Wasabi Aioli, Avocado and Tobiki Caviar”. This was great.

Drinks. Pomegranate Mojito and Hawaiian Martini. Officially very, very gay. But very refreshing nonetheless.

Luckily, I was able to salvage some vestige of my diminishing manhood by watching football while I peed.

I’m not sure why, but after I paid up and was about to leave (you can tell by the sun going down causing all the noise on my iPhone’s camera), some guy brought me this salmon tempura roll “on the house”. Maybe they felt sorry for me for sitting alone and ordering a white, frothy drink with a big ole’ pineapple jutting out from one side, and decided to show some compassion and give me an “amuse douche.” In any regard, it was a fairly nice gesture.

Roy’s mines that fusion territory that approaches gimmicky, but for my first visit I have to say they do it rather well.

Andina

I had the good fortune to spend a recent birthday lunch at Andina, Portland’s destination for upscale Peruvian fusion cuisine.

Soon after menus were dropped, we were presented with bread and this trio of salsas. At the far end was a mild, smooth and creamy salsa infused with peanuts, in the middle a vibrant, fruity puree, and at the near end a fiery, intense salsa verde. All were absolutely great, with the heat factor intensifying as you worked from creamy to verde.

PIMIENTO PIQUILLO RELLENO “Piquillo peppers stuffed with cheese, quinoa and Serrano ham”

Pimiento cross-section. A perfect appetizer. Light, refreshing.

ANTICUCHO DE PULPO “Grilled octopus kebob with rocoto and caper chimichurri”

One of the better octopus dishes in recent memory. It was served on top of a delicious, savory, starchy (yuca/cornmeal?) puree—I could have eaten a whole bowl of this stuff.

A LA CHALACA “Sashimi-style fresh fish in an ají Amarillo vinaigrette, served with corn salsa criolla”

Today’s fish featured Ono. The ají Amarillo had just the right level of heat to punch up this raw dish. I could drink the vinaigrette straight up in a shot glass.

AJÍ DE GALLINA “Succulent pulled chicken in an ají Amarillo, peanut, and cream-based sauce served with yellow potatoes, white rice, and Botija olives and hard-boiled egg””

Comfort food at it’s finest. Portland would be well-served by a food cart dishing out Peruvian home cooking such as this.

CONCHAS A LA PARILLA “Grilled diver scallops with a garlic lime butter sauce and crispy onions”

The scallop was wonderfully grilled, slightly opaque in the center, with a mild sauce accentuated with a bit of soy. The onions could have been a bit more crisply flash-fried.

Andina continues to be one of Portland’s brightest shining stars, with expertly presented, colorful dishes and vibrant flavors churned out with punctual regularity. A true gem.

Andina

1314 NW Glisan St
Portland, OR 97209
503-228-9535

Andina on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

Food Dude’s Review.
PDX Plate.
PortlandFood.org.
Bruce/Wineguyworld has been here.
So has KAB.

Ngoc Han Bún Bò Huế revisited

With the local press and food bloggers all aflutter (and rightfully so) with the homemade goodness that rotates daily at nearby HA&VL, it can be easy to overlook the deliciousness that is served up every day (and night) at Ngoc Han Bún Bò Huế.

I myself just recently revisited after a months long dry spell. One early weekend morning I happened upon a full-on crowd scene at HA&V (the wait was about 15 minutes, which, for me, is about 14 minutes too long). Lucky for me, Ngoc Han Bún Bò Huế is just a few blocks north, on SE 82nd & Harrison.

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On this particular occasion, I opted for the dac biet (“kitchen sink” version).

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The dac biet version features abundant slices of rare beef (the same lean, thinly shaved eye of round that graces pho tai) in addition to the plethora of other meats, including a peppery, house made cha lua that is some of the tastiest pork loaf this side of the Willamette. As you can see, you need to bring your “A” game if you want to power down this bowl of soup. It is not for the faint of heart or those possessing weak-willed alimentary canals.

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I immediately remove the knuckles and set them aside for post-meal nibbling.

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Ngoc graces you with the most prolific herb n’ salad plate in town, overflowing with perilla, rau ram, sprouts, and—as is customary with Bún Bò Huế—shredded lettuce and banana blossoms.

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When the garnish graces the soup all proper like, an impressive bowl gets even more impressive-er.

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In addition to the salad plate, this nuoc mam spiked with chopped bird chilies adds an immediate and visceral kick.

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At Ngoc, if you request “spicy”, you’re given a stout dollop of fiery red sate sauce that blends effortlessly into an already spicy and fragrant broth.

Ngoc and HA&VL, with just a moment’s walk between the two, bookend Portland’s ground zero for soup noodles. On 82nd Avenue, the best Vietnamese bowls—hell, the best soups in all of the city—are slurped not at Pho joints, but rather served at shops that don’t even serve pho. Seek them out.

Ngoc Han Bún Bò Huế

8230 SE Harrison St Ste 315
Portland, OR 97216
(503) 774-2761

Ngoc Han Bún Bò Huế on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

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Portlandfood.org

Gibsons: Chicago Road Trip, Red Meat Edition

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I was recently in Chicago with the family, visiting some dear friends, and decided to eat some meat.

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Gibson’s is a prototypical old school steakhouse, some would say “an institution”, the kind of place where framed portraits of celebrities are plastered over every inch of wall. This is your chance to eat at the same place where the guy who starred as the bitter paraplegic vet in Forrest Gump devoured a porterhouse. The restaurant is located just north of downtown Chicago at the epicenter (the “G spot”?) of an area known as the “Viagra Triangle”, named presumably because it’s where formerly virile captains of industry bring their silicon-enhanced, pre-fab trophy fillies (with whom they are cheating on their third wives with) to consume Cobb salads and long drink cocktails just prior to chemically enhancing their flaccid male appendages.

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The night kicks off when the white-jacketed waitron—a pro’s pro, he’s been doing this his whole life—presents you with a slab of naked meat that’s nearly startling with its immensity and near-pornagraphic bravura. The meat parade is one of the odder steakhouse traditions. It is quite uncomfortable being presented with raw flesh, just inches from your face, while some stranger prods the tepid meat with his index digit. The spiel here is relatively short, straightforward and sticks to the script. Menus are dropped in quick order and drinks are dispatched. Service here consisted of several, interchangeable and well-oiled apparatus – brusquely appropriate and warmly efficient.

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Bread is brought immediately.

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Gibson’s raison d’etre. The steaks are wet aged, as opposed to dry.

The menus and wine menu. Like many images on this blog, clicking on them will allow the user to view a larger specimen.

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We started with this “Crabmeat Avocado”. It was quite good–and expertly carved avocado half, inverted and topped with plenty of sweet crab meat, topped with a tangy goddess-like dressing.

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A velvety-smooth lobster bisque and perfunctory caesar salad accompanied our steaks.

I got the bone-in tenderloin. Now, some may say this steak is burnt. I’m not going to go that far, but I will state the exterior char was nearing a level that I’m not normally comfortable with (but not quite).

The steak itself was cooked perfectly to the medium-rare I requested. It was a decent slab of meat, however it could have benefited from a bordelaise sauce, something to add flavor and richness. I’m not sure why I order tenderloin when I know it’s going to be, well, just tenderloin–a mostly flavorless cut, even when it’s prime beef.

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And the tarragon-flecked hollandaise it’s served with is a cloying, middling affair.

This sirloin, served atop a red wine reduction, on the other hand, was packed full of flavor. This was excellent the next morning (with some leftover rice) for breakfast.

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The sauteed spinach and mushrooms were really just spinach mostly wilted from the heat of the sauteed shrooms. Somewhat disappointing.

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And this double baked potato was comically immense.

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But really, what is better than fine red wine and fine red prime during a night on the town in the City of Broad Shoulders?

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Yippee! Let’s get cake. This slice fed the three of us.

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So we had to take the other 4/5ths back home to the fridge, where the cake will stand, uneaten for the most part, in prime real estate on the second shelf, slowly but surely mocking you as a reminder of all the bad decisions you’ve made in your life. This latest, cake-over-ordering episode is simply another instance.

Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse

1028 N Rush St, Chicago
(312) 266-8999
www.gibsonssteakhouse.com

La Fuente

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La Fuente is occupies a very modest storefront in “old town” Tigard, just set off a ways from Value Village. It’s easy to miss; I’ve driven by it for over a year now without noticing it. It took a recommendation from user Prone to Hyperbole at Portlandfood.org to seek it out.

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La Fuente is a proper Mexican restaurant with a full menu.

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And the tacos occupy just a subset of the varied offerings.

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Things started off in true cantina Mexican fashion with some warm fried tortilla chips and a serviceable tomato salsa (free).

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The “tacos mexicanos” — standard taqueria style. The usual litmus test of asada, carnitas, and pastor.

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Asada.

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Carnitas.

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Pastor.

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Fully dressed taco.

The table sauces here are mediocre; ExtraMSG at Portlandfood.org pointed out they may very well be the Herdez commercial brand. The tacos themselves were quite good. The pastor is not the best I’ve had, but it was seasoned nicely and was delivered with a nice char. The asada was undercrisped, but well seasoned, and the carnitas was meaty and delicious. The fresh tortillas were soft and pillowy, and reminded me much like the excellent onesTaqueria Sanchez serves just down the road.

This place is worth your time to visit if you’re in the mood for taqueria-style tacos. On the strength of their tacos alone, and considering it’s proximity to my house, it warrants an exploration of its other non-taco offerings as well.

La Fuente

12198 SW Main St
Tigard, OR 97223
(503) 639-3653

La Fuente on the WORLD WIDE WEB

Portlandfood.org

Pho Nguyen

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Phở Nguyễn nestles in a large strip mall anchored by a Fred Meyer on Beaverton Hillsdale Highway at the point Portland segues into Beaverton proper.

It’s a pretty standard Vietnamese pho joint, with a numbered menu and the various combinations of pho.

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Goi cuon. They were delivered immediately, which means they were pre-rolled, which is fine if the roll contains more than one paper thin slice of pale boiled pork and a single halved shrimp. Very weak.

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The salad plate at Nguyen is very generous, including ample amount of ngo gai, which is essential for pho. The inclusion of sawtooth herb on a garnish plate is usually a good indication a place takes their pho seriously.

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Pho tai chin, my standard order.

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Close-up of the chin/brisket. Very tender and flavorful.

Phở Nguyễn does a nice job with their soup. I’ve had the pho here a little over half a dozen times, and each bowl has been consistent and satisfying. The broth is neither overpowering nor amazingly nuanced, but it does have a nice balance — this is predictable pho, which is a good thing. I haven’t had anything besides pho here, probably because the insipid goi cuon placed some doubts in my mind.

Phở Nguyễn

4795 SW 77th Avenue
Portland, OR 97225
(503) 297-3389

Phở Nguyễn on THE WORLD WIDE WEB

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