3924 N Mississippi Ave
Portland’s dining scene is incredibly diverse. Thai food, in particular, is very good in this city. Pok Pok is renowned for its Issan/Northeastern Thai cuisine….and along Sandy Rd are a number of small family run Thai restaurants (along with a good smattering of Vietnamese and Cambodian). And over in the quickly gentrifying Mississippi District is Mee Sen – a restaurant run by a young crew of Thais that is serving uncompromising Thai food.
Those are indeed deep fried grasshoppers – a common drinking snack in Thailand. Mee Sen serves this delicacy perhaps as a gimmick to differentiate themselves from the rest of the field. The food served here is a good survey of Thai cuisine but definitely leans towards Bangkok style southern Thai. However, noticeably absent from the menu are the all-too common Tom Yum soups, and the red/green/yellow curries found at most typical North American Thai restaurants. Instead you are presented with a menu of curries, salads and soups that are more representative of the cuisine. The flavours and spice levels are authentic – all the food I have had here had the right pungency and heat.
120 NE Russell St
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.
3862 Southeast Hawthorne Boulevard
Portland, OR 97214
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).