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Portland Food Tastes [Split from Ome Calli]


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#1 levbarg

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 07:37 AM

I take it Eva is the Cool Moon ice cream matron? (Remember, I'm the newbie!). If so, it's great to know that local restauranteurs are paying attention. For a long time, posting by business owners was prohibited on the LA Chowhound boards (justification was to avoid shilling at all costs) but they recently changed those rules.

I've only been here for four weeks, but I'm getting the sense of what you're talking about with regard to Portlanders' tastes. I was delighted to find a cart vendor selling cochinita pibil and panuchos at the El Taco Yucateco cart at 10th and Alder. I was a huge fan of Chichen Itza in LA, so this came as a welcome surprise. I charted with the cart owner, and sadly there are no other Yucatecan dishes. He says it's already hard keeping these two, because people don't understand the traditional preparations of the foods and want to customize them in all manner of unholy ways. He said he made tamales for a long time, which is a labor intensive process, but they just didn't sell, so off the menu they go.

I'm getting the impression that the typical Portlander sees themselves as being open minded and progressive but is really deep down rather provincial. Is that an accurate assessment?

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#2 Egads

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 11:23 AM

I wouldn't say people here are provincial, I just think certain tastes tend to elude enough people that it doesn't make sense to put something on the menu. My personal example is papadzules, my favorite Mexican food dish from my time living in Salt Lake City. When I moved to Portland I called just about every Mexican food place I could find, asking if anyone made it. Nearly everyone gave me the same answer: oh yeah, we could make that, but nobody would order it. 

 

Thanks for the post about this place, though, it sounds amazing and I can't wait to try it. 



#3 crepeguy

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 01:34 PM

I'm getting the impression that the typical Portlander sees themselves as being open minded and progressive but is really deep down rather provincial. Is that an accurate assessment?
Mr Taster


Interesting. I think it's a fair assessment depending on what your background is. If you come from a small town in the Midwest, you may view the dining scene in Portland as a cornucopia of culinary wonders. If, on the other hand, you come here via NYC, LA or the Bay Area, you're going to find that this town a bit of a backwater culinarily speaking. We must also take into account, that many transplants here are from the Midwest, so their food preferences may reflect what is commonly referred to as "meat and potatoes."

Overall, I'd say Portland is definitely an American food town. Burgers, pie, fried chicken, buiscuts and gravy, doughnuts, pizza are all glorified by the local food media here. Oddly enough, there's also a strong local obsession with macaroons.

I'd also venture to say, if the food cart phenomenon had not come to fruition, this town would never have gotten the recognition it has (mainly through the Food Network and NY Times) and would be viewed as an afterthought to Seattle. The food carts are what brings the tourists. That, and that mediocre doughnut place downtown. Of the 700+ food carts (really permanent stalls, but who's quibbling) I'd say only a handful are of any merit. Most are a joke.

But, Mr. Taster, you and I have already walked down this path before on Chowhound. My name there is Bewley. And yes, I have shilled my business on that forum in the past (most people do).

#4 Jill-O

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 02:24 PM

Yes Mr. Taster, Eva is the owner of Cool Moon (IMO the best ice cream in Portland, and the best hot fudge on the planet...and no, I would never kid about hot fudge) in the Pearl.

 

I think that part of the big comfort food appeal here ties into the appeal of the casual setting (including dress) and the eschewing of fancy/white tablecloth dining.  It's easier to make a living here selling pizza or burgers or fried chicken than it is to open a place charging $100-$200 per person in high end dining. We are not the kind of city that folks with huge expense accounts flock to, there aren't enough locals who can and/or choose to support too many of those kinds of places...and if folks have to adhere to a dress code...well, forget about that here. It's why you can go almost anywhere here in jeans and tshirt and/or fleece...even if you are paying $100 pp.

 

There are definitely a lot of us who love many things that more mainstream eaters would never order. The thing is, most restaurants have to run these things as specials, if they offer them at all, because while there are some of us who would order those things (sweetbreads and other offal, bugs, natto, jellyfish, etc.), not enough folks generally do to make them standard menu items. There are certainly exceptions to the rule like Tanuki and others, but generally, folks stick to what they can sell.  

 

And yes, there are a lot of Midwestern transplants here.  Seems like I meet someone originally from Michigan everyday!

 

I'm originally from NYC (been here about 14 years) and my GF is from...Michigan!  ;o)


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#5 levbarg

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 03:50 PM

Thanks for the Portland primer, and for the welcome.

Certainly classifying Portland as an American food town seems to be very accurate, though what is happening out in Beaverton seems very interesting to me. Having come from LA where massive swathes of the San Gabriel Valley are essentially Chinese suburbs, I've seen what this phenomenon does to the local food scene and it is glorious. Nak Won is not going to bump the best of LA Koreatown off its throne, but it's a very respectable effort. As is Pho Van, Best Baguette, Rama Thai and Taste of Sichuan. It will be very interesting to see how this area grows in ten or twenty years.

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#6 Emile

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 04:13 PM

I think the point is a little overstated.  The fact is, this is a very white city and not a very big city, so any food business has to convince white people to eat odd 'non-white' foods, without, except for a few exceptions, a large home base of whatever ethnicity finds the food normal.  I wouldn't think that our rate of adventurous eaters is less than other metros - last time I was in San Francisco, people were lined up for all sorts of mediocre, boring stuff.

 

I feel like when something gets some good press, people will go, but there definitely isn't the sort of searching out for new things like in LA.  But for every dearly missed and unfairly snubbed place like Taste of Jakarta (which I bet could have done better on the East Side), there are examples of success.  Yucatecan, as in your example, can be gotten in the city at Taqueria La Estacion and Angel Food & Fun, probably several other places, there was the pop-up Tierra Maya, banana leaf tamales are not hard to find.  I don't know if these businesses are flourishing, but glad to have you here to give them another customer.  

 

We certainly can't compare to the diversity of dining in NYC, LA, Bay Area, but those places are like 4-9X the size of our metro.  Honestly, I'm pretty happy with all the choices I have within 20 minutes of my house.



#7 crepeguy

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 04:39 PM

I think the point is a little overstated.  The fact is, this is a very white city and not a very big city, so any food business has to convince white people to eat odd 'non-white' foods, without, except for a few exceptions, a large home base of whatever ethnicity finds the food normal.  I wouldn't think that our rate of adventurous eaters is less than other metros - last time I was in San Francisco, people were lined up for all sorts of mediocre, boring stuff.

 

I feel like when something gets some good press, people will go, but there definitely isn't the sort of searching out for new things like in LA.  But for every dearly missed and unfairly snubbed place like Taste of Jakarta (which I bet could have done better on the East Side), there are examples of success.  Yucatecan, as in your example, can be gotten in the city at Taqueria La Estacion and Angel Food & Fun, probably several other places, there was the pop-up Tierra Maya, banana leaf tamales are not hard to find.  I don't know if these businesses are flourishing, but glad to have you here to give them another customer.  

 

We certainly can't compare to the diversity of dining in NYC, LA, Bay Area, but those places are like 4-9X the size of our metro.  Honestly, I'm pretty happy with all the choices I have within 20 minutes of my house.

 

I'm going to go out on a limb here. I would say Providence, RI, per capita is much more diverse in ethnic restaurants vs PDX and THAT can be directly related to a more diverse population (and having Johnson & Wales, Brown University and RSDI). Yet, I would also venture to say that tiny, lilly white Asheville, NC is also more culinarily diverse per capita in restaurants than most towns in the United States. Now why is that? I think, to start it has a lot to do with the type of people who gravitate to certain places. It doesn't necessarily have anything to do with color/race (there are exceptions of course), but everything to do with culture. 

 

Anyway, welcome Mr. Taster; it's nice to get a different perspective around here.



#8 nervousxtian

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 05:14 PM

I kind of disagree.. I don't think the food carts are near as bad as crepeguy.. there is a pretty good number put out quality grub.   Also we have a pretty diverse selection of foods within a close proximity for city the size of ours and as white as ours.      

 

Especially if you've lived here long enough to know what it was like 20 years ago.     I mean you mention fried chicken, pizza, burgers.. what the hell down HASN'T been down that road lately??   Those things got big again due to cost and the economy being in the shitter.    That's not a Portland thing at all.    



#9 levbarg

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 05:55 PM

I agree, there are some interesting carts. For example, the Georgian cart at the 10th/Washington pod. Don't think I've ever seen Georgian food for sale anywhere before, let alone this little city of ours. I think the Georgians, in a strange way, may have an easier time of it then the poor guy at El Taco Yucateco, who will forever be battling against Tex Mex expectations. But Georgian food? Few people know what to expect, so diner impressions will be based only on how the cart prepares it.

By the way, what's with the huge density of "New York" Egyptian carts? They seem to grab all the corners. Is food any good at any of them?

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#10 ExtraMSG

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Posted 01 April 2015 - 11:49 PM

The New York "Egyptian" carts are a relatively new thing. They've been expanding like crazy. I believe Food Carts Portland has the low-down.  Probably all one family who moved out here from NY to make use of our liberal laws and cheap rent and their experience.  So blatantly east coasters though with their gaudy stylings.  From what I've tasted, I'd stick with the local food truck chain Aybla.


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#11 ExtraMSG

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 12:09 AM

I have many qualms with Portlanders' pretense of being worldly while being such meat and potatoes eaters.  But I think it's ridiculous to try to say that the burgers/pizza/southern food thing is an example of much.  Burgers are hot everywhere.  And frankly, many of the places that are trendy in other towns, like Shake Shack, are rather meh compared to the places that have led the charge here.  Pizza? Again, pizza has been a hot trend throughout the country and the last 5 years have led to an explosion in quality pies throughout the country.  Portland may be in the top tier in that regard, but, hell, you can find good hot oven and wood-fired pizzas in pretty much any town of modest size nowadays.  Likewise, BBQ and southern cooking has been a darling of foodies of late.  NY has probably embraced the BBQ trend more than anywhere.  So I'm not buying what most people are selling.  

 

There are certainly cities with much larger and more segregated "minority" populations that are going to produce food for their own people.  And adventurous foodies certainly benefit from that. (I'm not sure how much of that, though, is being made for white people in those cities, but rather in spite of them.) Portland isn't much of a magnet for minority populations.  But there are a lot of B+ places in a variety of ethnic categories, even some As, that would be good in any city in America.  There's not a lot of depth or breadth compared with a NY or Chicago or LA or Houston, but as always, Portland fights above its weight class.

 

And where Portland is best is where it's somewhat unique: applying the local and seasonal mantra to whatever midscale/casual food strikes a chef's fancy.  I don't know anywhere in the country where you can do better for midscale food, ie, quality rustic food, places like Ox, Toro Bravo, Kachka, Nostrana, St. Jack and the like.  Seattle and San Francisco share some aesthetics and certainly it came out of the Bay Area stylistically, but it seems to have reached its apex here.  Everywhere else you get to the quality of ingredients and preparation that these sorts of places have and the chefs end up taking it somewhere more precious and over-tweezered. It's still just good food, not an art installation, here.


The greatest service chemistry has rendered to alimentary science, is the discovery of osmazome, or rather the determination of what it was. ~Brillat-Savarin

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Formerly, Kenny & Zuke's


#12 crepeguy

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 04:53 AM

The New York "Egyptian" carts are a relatively new thing. They've been expanding like crazy. I believe Food Carts Portland has the low-down.  Probably all one family who moved out here from NY to make use of our liberal laws and cheap rent and their experience.  So blatantly east coasters though with their gaudy stylings.  From what I've tasted, I'd stick with the local food truck chain Aybla.

 
 
We have one near us.  I've heard reports the quality is so-so, but they do well because their $5 gyro is cheap and filling.

#13 nervousxtian

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 05:49 AM

The NY food cart thing is big because Halal Guys in NY is so popular and in the news.

 

Those places aren't about gyros.. they are about lots of meat, the turmeric rice and lots of that white and red sauce.

 

BTW, I'd love a true halal style cart.. are any of them actually doing that?



#14 crepeguy

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 07:06 AM

I have many qualms with Portlanders' pretense of being worldly while being such meat and potatoes eaters.  But I think it's ridiculous to try to say that the burgers/pizza/southern food thing is an example of much.  Burgers are hot everywhere.  And frankly, many of the places that are trendy in other towns, like Shake Shack, are rather meh compared to the places that have led the charge here.  Pizza? Again, pizza has been a hot trend throughout the country and the last 5 years have led to an explosion in quality pies throughout the country.  Portland may be in the top tier in that regard, but, hell, you can find good hot oven and wood-fired pizzas in pretty much any town of modest size nowadays.  Likewise, BBQ and southern cooking has been a darling of foodies of late.  NY has probably embraced the BBQ trend more than anywhere.  So I'm not buying what most people are selling.  

 

There are certainly cities with much larger and more segregated "minority" populations that are going to produce food for their own people.  And adventurous foodies certainly benefit from that. (I'm not sure how much of that, though, is being made for white people in those cities, but rather in spite of them.) Portland isn't much of a magnet for minority populations.  But there are a lot of B+ places in a variety of ethnic categories, even some As, that would be good in any city in America.  There's not a lot of depth or breadth compared with a NY or Chicago or LA or Houston, but as always, Portland fights above its weight class.

 

And where Portland is best is where it's somewhat unique: applying the local and seasonal mantra to whatever midscale/casual food strikes a chef's fancy.  I don't know anywhere in the country where you can do better for midscale food, ie, quality rustic food, places like Ox, Toro Bravo, Kachka, Nostrana, St. Jack and the like.  Seattle and San Francisco share some aesthetics and certainly it came out of the Bay Area stylistically, but it seems to have reached its apex here.  Everywhere else you get to the quality of ingredients and preparation that these sorts of places have and the chefs end up taking it somewhere more precious and over-tweezered. It's still just good food, not an art installation, here.

 

I'm not so naive to think this trend is endemic to Portland. I was living in NYC in the early 90's when the cupcake arrived and the Food Network began to get it's talons into the American psyche. And NYC is also famous for that beloved of Frankenstein of pastries: the cronut. And, as you point out, Danny Meyer was a trend setter with his Shake Shack. Thank God I had already departed the scene by then. I actually ate at Robert Pearson's first restaurant "Stick to Your Ribs" in Stratford., CT. He's the one credited for bringing great BBQ to NYC. Oddly enough he was originally a hairdresser from Great Britain. Not to get too personal, but his brisket would put have put most places here to shame. He was a lot like you Nick in that he was obsessed with BBQ. He travelled all over the country learning the BBQ trade as you have with Mexican food. But yes, you're correct-NYC can be viewed as the primary incubator for the "Americanization" of the American palette. But there's a lot of other great food there, because it's unique. It's a melting pot. 

 

I'm just curious: why Portland can't sustain one white table clothed Noisette or a Per Se? I'd take one Afghan Kebab House over a Nicolas or that other overpriced "Mediterranean" place any day. Curious enough, wasn't there an Afghani place on Hawthorne at one point.? That place apparently lacked business even though reports were pretty good. Wasn't it replaced by that chain: Mio Sushi? Speaking of sushi, why couldn't people here get their minds around the fact that the word "izakaya" does not necessarily denote "sushi"? And none of this has anything to do with money or class. People here spend so much $$$ for mediocrity. There's a lot of hype and bs. . but I digress and have gotten off-topic.

 

Pizza: The Oregonian has employed a food writer who spends most of her time writing about hot dogs and burgers, while lamenting she cannot find the same deep dish pizza as she used to enjoy from her hometown, Chicago. I just ate again at Apizza Scholls last night. Nice pizza, and I agree, it's probably the best in town. But could I pick at least 2 places in Boston, 3 in New Haven, CT and 5 in NYC that are probably better? Absolutely. I use the word "probably" because it's a matter personal of taste after all.

 

Burgers. The best burger I've eaten was cooked on a flat top in butter on a beach concession on Long Island Sound. Here, in Portland, EVERY restaurant of note has a signature burger (most of the Yelp reviews reflect this). But yet, the local media is all aflutter that IN and Out is coming to Oregon. Yeah sure, we've all eaten at the In and Out in Redding, CA on our way south. Is it good? Sure. Is it worth the "hype"? Absolutely not. I have yet to try the Biwa burger, or the one at Gruner, or at any of the other lauded heavy hitters around town. I have eaten at LLB on multiple occasions. It's ok, but the hype over the truffle oil fries . . that Micah Camden certainly knows his audience. 

 

Honestly, Nick, you're right, the "American food trend" is taking place all over, but give me one great tandoori place in PDX. Just one. And all this having to drive out to Beaverton bs. I hate driving in Beaverton. Every time I drive in that cursed suburb I get a ticket. I'd rather drive to Seattle. 

 

And can anyone PLEASE tell me WTF is up with the macaroons? 



#15 crepeguy

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 07:19 AM

I kind of disagree.. I don't think the food carts are near as bad as crepeguy.. there is a pretty good number put out quality grub.   Also we have a pretty diverse selection of foods within a close proximity for city the size of ours and as white as ours.      

 

Especially if you've lived here long enough to know what it was like 20 years ago.     I mean you mention fried chicken, pizza, burgers.. what the hell down HASN'T been down that road lately??   Those things got big again due to cost and the economy being in the shitter.    That's not a Portland thing at all.    

 

I've heard of the 700-800 carts, only about 10% are really good. I obviously haven't eaten at all of them, but this is a percentage I hear mentioned a lot. And the competition and turnover is obviously very high.



#16 nervousxtian

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 07:57 AM

So that'd make 70-80 really good carts.   

 

That's a lot.

 

No clue what you're talking about with macaroons.    Guess I don't follow the trends all that much to know.     But I do think that it's easy to remember the best food being some place hard to get too.. it's easy for our brains to remember exactly how good something was when we are away from it and can't have it on a whim.    I tend to take comparisons that someone gives to a local spot with something in another part of the country with a grain of salt.. because it's not a fair comparison..  I can't go try both in a day or week without paying a shitload of money flying.

 

It's why we travel on vacation to places we don't live, it's why the touristy shit in our own town is meh to us, it's why we don't get the Voodoo thing.. we live here.    We never really appreciate things we have, because we have them.. and we lust after what we don't.   

 

..and yes.. Voodoo isn't that great.. but tourists typically have nothing like it from where they come.    So I get it.    Honestly I'd rather just send a tourist there than Blue Star.. honestly they'd probably be less disappointed by Voodoo to be honest.     I say that knowing the difference.



#17 Jill-O

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 08:47 AM

It's true there are macarons everywhere in this town. I don't know why. But yes, I think that there are probably 5-10 businesses I have heard of or seen here that specialize in or just sell (along with other bakery items) macarons...and most of them sell a large amount of different flavors of the things.

 

Well, I have to say that the best Korean I have had is in Beaverton (I like Nak Won, but I prefer JCD- still never been to Spring, though) but if I don't want to drive out there SKD in the FuBonn Center is OK. 

 

I love sake and even though Uwajimaya in Beaverton has the largest selection in town, I do just fine with both FuBonn and Tanuki on the East side.

 

I like Chiang Mai for Thai (never been to Rama) a whole lot, in fact. I wouldn't drive out to the West side, much less out to Beaverton for Thai.

 

The Tid Bit cart pod on SE Division has a suprisingly high number of good to excellent carts, plus a beer cart (Scout) and a few retail (gifts, clothes, flowers) carts. They have a shelter with heaters and a fire pit and in the warmer and dryer months they had live music. Good carts there include Smaaken Waffles, Stacey's 65 Breakfast, Buki, Love Belizean, Pyro Pizza, Aybla (best grilled chicken on a salad from a cart), Monster Salads.  I have also heard good things about the Indian and the Scandinavian carts there, but i haven't tried them. More details in a post I did here: http://portlandfood....place/?p=167438

 

I'm not usually a huge cart/pod fan, but I really enjoy the carts and the vibe in the Tid Bit pod.

 

I'm from Brooklyn and have certainly been to New Haven, CT...I hear you about the pizza.  But when I loved here in 2001, there was no good pizza. Now there are several decent options.  I love Apizza Scholls, but I also have had good pizza at Pizza Maria and Nostrana and I love the weird cornmeal crust at Dove Vivi. It's not going to be Brooklyn...and that's fine...because that Brooklyn barely exists anymore. 

 

And ya, haven't been to Angel Food and Fun but I hear good things about it and yes, it is Yucatecan!


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#18 crepeguy

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 10:17 AM

We went to Chiangmai Mai for lunch yesterday. It's very good. We were regulars at Tarad Thai for lunch, but went a month ago for dinner. The experience was not as good. We ate at a new (to us) place on Belmont that was really good, run by a husband/wife team called Kala Noodle and Grill. I highly recommend it. I've also never been to Rama.

We dined at the Tidbit cart pod once, for Pyro Pizza. We went down to visit Michelle who used to own a flower shop airstream there. She and her French husband used to make crepes out of a cart here, but have now left to travel the world. Tidbit is cool.

We have two good pods near us on N. Mississippi. Most of the carts here are top notch (and they bring us a lot of overflow traffic, which is nice). I actually do frequent carts here often, I'm sure some of the owners will attest, but I don't like waiting. Some of our carts can take a while to get your food. Actually, I have a problem with lines in general. Sure I go to Sweedeedee, but I won't wait in line for it. Same goes with Por Que No. Nice tacos, but not worth the wait imo. Actually, it seems waiting in line is a popular pastime here.

I think my problem is I spend too much time reading the local food media and it annoys me. Yesterday, the food writer for the Mercury stated that tapas are complimentary in Spain (this was her excuse for why we don't have decent, authentic tapas here). That's a load of bs if ever I heard it. I have a few fiends who are food writers, but they know what they're talking about, not so much here. The same woman wrote a review about the Portuguese restaurant Fado on Hawthorne. She stated they should have started as a food cart first, then advanced to brick and mortar. What the hell does that woman know? The only Portguese restaurant in PDX and she comes out with a snarky comment like that.

#19 Jill-O

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 10:27 AM

The only Portuguese restaurant for miles up and down the coast, I believe. And yeah, that one irked me too. I like Ross (the owner) and Fado.  It's not perfect, but it is good food from folks who give a damn about it. I want them to put those scallops back on the menu!


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#20 Jill-O

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Posted 02 April 2015 - 10:58 AM

Adam, a member here (and pizza expert/afficionado), did a thing on macarons in the O a year or two ago:

 

http://www.oregonliv...ons_the_to.html

 

Places mentioned: Nuvrei, Maurice, Two Tarts, Pearl, Farina, Papa Haydn, Ken's Artisan, Pix

 

To that I can add:

 

Hungry Heart (a new bakery and coffee joint off of SE Stark on SE 80th - yes, finally a choice other than Red & Black...they also make croissant and bialys. The bialys are not really all that great if you think of them as bialys...but if you think of them as oniony rolls they aren't too bad ;o)

 

The Sugar Cube

Lovejoy Bakers

Moonstruck Chocolate

Frice

St. Honoré

 

I wasn't trying that hard...and I didn't include out of Portland proper or gluten-free bakeries...

 

Yeah...lots of macarons...no, don't know why.  Just thought I would confirm your observation as fact-based reality.  ;o)


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