Toro Bravo – Portland, OR


Toro Bravo
120 NE Russell St
Portland, OR
(503) 281-4464

Recently, I had the pleasure of spending some quality eating time in Portland. I have been to this city many times before as I have relatives who live there. I often go down to visit, but my eating is usually limited to one or two restaurants. This visit was different…I was on a mission to survey one of the most exciting cities in the continent to eat.

Toro Bravo has been on my list for a long time. It is the kind of restaurant that I wish we had here in Vancouver. It has an  farm-to-table ethos that is coupled with approachability and accessibility…a combination that is non-existent here in Vancouver. It was devoid of the typical pretensions and other baggage that I am used to experiencing at similar restaurants in my home city. It really felt like a neighbourhood restaurant – full of families with their children dining on communal tables.

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La Gloria – Bellingham, WA


La Gloria
4140 Meridian Street
Bellingham, WA
(360) 733-9102

I love to eat at ethnic hole-in-the-wall restaurants. These little joints plug away making tasty food oblivious to the ongoing debates about culinary authenticity and ethnicity. This insulation from such gastronomic banter is what makes good holes-in-the-wall so endearing and finding them such a satisfying experience. One such place is the humble La Gloria – part restaurant and part grocery store – located just south of the 49th parallel in Bellingham WA.

It is no secret that Vancouver has dearth of decent Mexican food. It is an issue of demographics and immigration patterns, of course. We just do not have the population of Mexican immigrants to support many authentic Mexican restaurants. La Gloria serves some of the tastiest and most authentic Mexican food within a day’s drive of Vancouver.

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Pizzeria Delfina – San Francisco, CA


Pizzeria Delfina – two locations
3611 18th St, San Francisco, CA.  (415) 437-6800
2406 California St, San Francisco, CA.  (415) 440-1189

[Note: Foodosopher's previous post on Pizzeria Delfina here]

The San Francisco Bay Area is usually considered one of the top cities in the country to eat pizza.  Of the many well-regarded pizza places (A16, Piccolo, Pizzaiolo, Tony’s, Pizzetta 211, Dopo, et al.) Pizzeria Delfina is considered amongst the best, with a style that is typically described as Napoletana-inspired.

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La Posta Vecchia – Santa Cruz, CA


La Posta Vecchia
538 Seabright Ave.
Santa Cruz, CA 95062
(831) 457-2782

California has a long tradition of Italian immigration beginning in the 19th century.  Although New York is probably more closely associated with this wave of newcomers, in the mid-1800s California had the most Italian immigrants of any state.  In Santa Cruz and elsewhere along the coast, northern Italians quickly became very prominent in the fishing industry.  They also played important roles in developing California’s vegetable, fruit and wine industries.

Even today, one can see the imprint of this immigration (e.g. Del Monte foods, Ghirardelli chocolates).  Perhaps this explains this state’s strong ties to Italian cuisine – indeed, California cuisine in my mind is primarily rooted in Italian sensibilities with French, other European and some Asian techniques and ingredients thrown in for good measure.  Despite this, it’s only been in the last decade or so that authentic regional Italian food has been widely available.

Russian River Brewing Company – Santa Rosa, CA


Russian River Brewing Company
725 4th Street
Santa Rosa, CA 95404
707-545-2337

A few years ago, I unwittingly developed a taste for American IPAs.  From years back I enjoyed the IPA from Bridgeport, the rather enjoyable brew pub in Portland, OR whose killer app is the aroma from its non-stop pizza ovens combined with a variety of decent beers.  But for whatever reason, a couple of years ago, I went from occasionally enjoying an IPA to suddenly finding it to be my favorite style of beer – well, provided it’s a west coast IPA, which I find to be cleaner, more focused and stylish than its Pacific-removed brethren.   The recent evolution of IPA (as the story goes) took a step forward when Vinnie Cilurzo, then at Blind Pig in San Diego, jacked up the regular IPA with even more hops, and balanced the extra bitterness with more sweetness from malt, which inevitably led to more alcohol. And thus the double IPA was born.  <Cue the manna from heaven sound effect.>   Now Mr. Cilurzo is co-owner (with his wife) of the Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa, CA, smack in the middle of California’s touristsorry, wine – country.

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Lucky Strike – Portland, OR


Lucky Strike
3862 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR 97214
(503) 206-8292

I’ve always been more than a bit suspicious of Chinese restaurants whose appearance doesn’t scream “Chinese,” – meaning the divey dumpling joint with specials written on the walls only in Chinese characters or the slightly-tacky upscale Cantonese seafood palace/aquarium – as if compromise in decor suggests similar in the kitchen.  Lucky Strike is a Sichuan restaurant with an unfortunate name and a decor which screams “Portland” despite the Chinese theme. Portland oozes hip from seemingly every pore, and no number of dragons is sufficient as camoflage.  Countering my normal skepticism were a number of strong reports of real Sichuan food.

Balance is certainly one of the hallmarks of great food no matter what price point or region.  Cantonese food seems to balance the sublest flavors like a game of Jenga in a windstorm – the smallest wrong move and the whole thing comes tumbling down. Sichuan food balances flavor Jenga blocks the size of entire buildings, with flavors almost bigger in scale than appropriate for humans. It’s no wonder that some Sichuanese (apocryphally?) wonder why all other cuisines taste so bland.  Two of the key flavors are ma, usually translated as “numbing” but to me has a strong hint of “tingling” as well, and la or spicy/hot. The former comes from huajiao or Sichuan peppercorn (among a whole list of names).

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Han Sung BBQ – Santa Clara, CA


Han Sung BBQ
2644 El Camino Real
Santa Clara, CA 95051
(408) 246-7799

The stretch of El Camino Real in Santa Clara, CA, is a few miles long and home to one of the densest regions of Korean restaurants in North America.  Here, critical mass has been reached and an entire ecosystem of supermarkets, bars, clubs, video stores as well as countless soon tobu and Korean barbecue places (and much more, I’m sure, if I could only read Korean) has evolved.  This handily solves the question of where one goes to get Korean food in the Bay Area south of San Francisco or Oakland. The harder question is which place to choose?

Han Sung BBQ is one of many non-descript store fronts in Moebius strip mall land.  What distinguishes it from the other barbecue places is simple: real wood charcoal.  Not that gas nonsense, but the real deal.  The whole place is perfumed with this scent despite the fierce ventilation system (note: I’ve read that HSB has recently completed a re-model which most people seem to give a big thumbs up, so I imagine a few strata of soot have been scrubbed from the walls in the process).  The wonderful aroma of the charcoal when it arrives at your table… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Hosoonyi – Edmonds, WA


Hosoonyi Tofu Restaurant
23830 Highway 99
Edmonds, WA
(425) 775-8196

Diverting off the I-5 near Lake Ballinger and hitting the Pacific (or #99) Highway, passing by what seems to be an endless number of places that are in love with the flavour of teriyaki, you can discover a fairly well known Korean restaurant called Hosoonyi that specializes in sundubu jjigae.  This spicy hot stew is a classic dish in Korea, eaten for lunch or dinner, alongside a bowl of steamed white rice and of course, the usual roundup of side dishes (banchan).  So with the good things I’d heard about it, I was quite excited to have a meal here on a return trip from Seattle.

From the outside, it looks nothing particularly spectacular, nestled inside a secluded complex housing other eateries such as what I believe was either a Vietnamese pho place or a bubble tea shop.  There is a decent sized parking lot surrounding the area for customers, as it seems a vehicle is required for getting here.  At the dinner hour, the room was quite full of customers, young and old, singles and families.  Usually a good and reliable sign that the food is good.

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Ristorante Avanti – Santa Cruz, CA


Ristorante Avanti
1711 Mission Street
Santa Cruz, CA 95060

(831) 427-0135

Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got.
Taking a break from all your worries, sure would help a lot.
Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Sometimes you want to go
Where everybody knows your name,
and they’re always glad you came.

I recall that the brilliant food writer Jonathan Gold once wrote that he’s been to Campanile in Los Angeles hundreds of times.  When I read that maybe 10 or 15 years ago, I couldn’t even fathom such a concept.  But now the combination of steady employment and living in one place for a good chunk of time has conspired to generate a small handful of places that I’ve been to so many times and with which I have such a relationship that it’s less a business and more an annex of my own home.  One of them is Ristorante Avanti, owned and run by Cindy and Paul Geise for over twenty years and still going strong.

What leads me and the many other regulars to return so often? I suspect it’s the combination of well-executed food with a menu that has both dishes that I know will be available when I’m in need of something tried, true and delicious, and a rotating list of daily specials that ensures there’s always something new and exciting to try.

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Pho Hoa – Seattle, WA


Pho Hoa
618 S Weller Street
Seattle, WA
(206) 624-7189

The International District of Seattle is sort of a dodgy place in the very late evening hours.  Whenever I’m there, I always get accosted by some homeless folk, and it happened again this time strolling through there seeking a place to eat.  As we navigated the streets and noticed that we were approaching the closing time of several restaurants in the area, we quickly popped into a familiar sight from Vancouver – a Vietnamese pho joint.

According to the company’s website, “in 1983, the first Pho Hoa restaurant opened in San Jose with a tiny kitchen and a few seats”.  Its now branched out to many other areas across North America and surprisingly even into some countries in Asia.  Not really knowing this, it was kind of strange to run into the familiar signage on the streets of this city in the Pacific Northwest.

It seemed that we were not the only ones with some late night hunger pains, as inside the place was occupied with a few larger groups of Asian youths.  With some pressure to get our orders into the kitchen before they gave up on the night, we began with a duo of spring rolls – one deep fried, the other fresh.  In hindsight, I suppose ordering anything cooked in a vat of hot oil at the end of a restaurant’s business hours is not wise, as the oil is probably very stale and infused with a lot of impurities.  I didn’t notice any foul scent nor was it overly colored, so it seemed like we lucked out.

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Caffé Vita – Seattle, WA


Caffé Vita Coffee Roasting Company
813 5th Ave N
Seattle, WA
(206) 285-9662

There is just something innate about living on the we[s]t coast that seems to drive the people here into the warm embrace of a welcoming hot cup of good coffee more so then perhaps other parts of the continent.  Some sources peg Seattle as averaging about 160 days of the year with a measurable rainfall and getting 92cm of the wet stuff per year (compare that to say Los Angeles, which receives just 30cm).  No wonder this gem in the Pacific Northwest is often referred to as Rain City.

An unproven theory that I hold is that when the outdoors are unpleasant but still tantalizingly temperate enough to make one long to be outside in non-rainy weather, it makes for an ideal environment for the development of  a strong network of neighborhood cafés.  For what better way to pine for better weather and gaze outside at it hoping for a shift in Mother Nature, than in the company of friends and neighbors, all huddled together in a homey place buzzing with the hum of active conversation that signify the free sharing of thoughts and ideas, with everyone sipping on a cup of aromatic and deep flavored coffee.

Does that paint a warm and fuzzy picture?  I sure hope it does…

Doing a quick scan of the online community for some favored coffee houses in Seattle produces a plethora of results.  Luckily, I left this legwork to my traveling companion and we found that we were starting our day in a neighborhood with one on the list nearby.  Good for us, as we both needed an early caffeine jolt to get started that morning.  And so with that, we quickly made our way to Caffé Vita in the Queen Anne section of town, and found it nestled into a quiet street-side building, across from some newer condominiums.  Apparently, this location was the original base (established in 1995) of this four-café operation, which also has its own roasterie.

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KwaTay’s – Seattle, WA


KwaTay’s Restaurant and Lounge
315 1st Ave. N.
Seattle, WA
(206) 588-2070

Is there a more enduring food service concept, fraught with both lovers and haters of it, than what is popularly known as “happy hour”?  Clearly this novelty was established to generate some needed revenue during the lull of the early to late afternoon, especially for bar proprietors that also serve food who have an interest in filling their cash registers as much as possible before the night rush happens.  In some more refined locations it seems to be a dying breed, but like a pesky cockroach, it will find a place to scurry into and stay for as long as possible until its flushed out and the life is stomped out of it.

The key allure of happy hour is definitely the reduced prices of regular menu items.  Food and drink inclusive.  At times, ridiculously low that even some drab surroundings, dubious service and a sense that you wouldn’t have stepped foot inside had it not been for the prices, are not enough to deter you from walking back through the entry door.  As you can see by the spartan space pictured above, that was more dance floor than restaurant dining area, you wouldn’t come to a place like this for the ambiance.  I’m sure you wouldn’t be at all shocked to hear that this is the kind of place that offers beer by the bucket as a crowd drawing special.

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Smoqe BBQ – Aptos, CA


Smoqe BBQ
10110 Soquel Dr
Aptos, CA 95003
(831) 662-2227

Sometimes, things are tougher than they seem.

At least, I figure it must be this way, since there are many things that should be pretty easy, and yet, are usually poorly executed. Hamburgers are a perfect example. It doesn’t take much to make a good hamburger. Some nice meat, decent bun, nice fresh condiments and cheese. Yet, so many places fail. It must be more complex than I make it out to be. I feel the same way about BBQ.

In the tiny village of Aptos, just outside Santa Cruz, CA, there already exists a BBQ shop, Aptos BBQ, that serves up good ol fashioned smoked BBQ. Yet, in an embarrassment of riches, on December 9, 2009, a second BBQ shop opened up. Smoqe BBQ.

The Smoqe BBQ philosophy is simple – cooked on 100% wood, dry rubbed and slow smoked for hours. Sounds simply perfect. They pride themselves on their pizza as well – time consuming dough, all organic ingredients, wood fired oven. They’ve taken some very simple dishes, and put in the time and effort to make them as perfect as possible.

When you first walk in, the order counter sits at the front. A fairly simple, yet extensive menu is available. Some fantastic selection of beers on tap, including Leffe, Black Butte Porter, and one of my favorite IPA’s ever, Racer 5 from Bear Republic. You order from the gentleman at the front, who may or may not greet you, grab a number, and take a seat.

In terms of the interior, everything is clean and minimalistic. There is quite a bit of distance between tables – which is usually nice for privacy, but definitely kills a bit of the atmosphere.

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Pizzeria Bianco – Phoenix, AZ


Pizzeria Bianco
623 E Adams St.
Phoenix, AZ 85004
(602) 258-8300

Before we get into my pizza trip to Phoenix, let me introduce myself.

I’m currently a barista in Alberta and finished a Bachelor of Arts last spring. I’ve been working in the food industry for the last 11 years, but only started appreciating real food when I began working in the specialty coffee industry three-and-a-half years ago. Being a part of the coffee industry has been an excellent opportunity for palate training: there are over 1,000 chemicals in roasted coffee, making for a very complex and diverse drink. No two cups of coffee or two pulls of espresso are the same; the quest for the perfect extraction lead many baristi to lose sleep, become over-caffeinated and obsessive.  One major upside is that any good barista will become concerned about everything she consumes. It is through this process that I really began to care about the food I eat. By no means do I claim to be a culinary expert; I’m just a food-lover, like every other contributor on foodosophy. I care about where my food comes from and hope that the person who prepared it cares even more. I also believe that when someone focuses on one thing and decides to put everything he or she has into it, the results will come through. This is obviously true in the food industry and I intend to experience as much of that passion around the world as I possibly can.

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Pho Ha Noi – San Jose, CA


Pho Ha Noi
1759 Capitol Expressway
San Jose, CA 95121-1561
(408) 239-0888

When discussing the origins of Pho, there are not a lot of facts available. While some think that the origin of Pho (pronounced ‘Fuh’) is from the French dish Pot au Feu, there is very little that historians can agree on. Reconstructing an oral history from something from the turn of the 20th Century can’t be easy. But there are a couple facts that are always agreed upon – Pho was originally beef, there was undoubtedly a French influence on the creation of the dish, and that it originated in the North, somewhere around Ha Noi, and was brought South with locals who migrated when the country was split into two in 1954.

Versions of Pho from the North ended up quite different than versions of the South, which was adapted a lot more for the Southern palate. As i discussed in my post on Pho Y #1, which is just across the road from Pho Ha Noi, versions in the North are much milder and more subtle. Far less anise, clove, black cardamom, and lighter treatments of charred onion and ginger, resulting in a lighter, cleaner broth. Pho Ha Noi serves a true northern style Pho, quite different than the Southern style Pho served at Pho Y #1.

Located at the intersection of Capitol Expressway and Silver Creek Road, it’s another in the large number of Vietnamese noodle shops in the area.
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