Baking pastries at Yesenia’s in Hillsboro. See video below.
There’s something wonderful about the aroma of bread baking. Even Franz with its Wonder-soft loaves smells good when the ovens are on. But Mexican bakeries—panaderias—are a whole other world. They use cinnamon, anise and orange in their fragrant pastries, called pan de dulce or pan dulce, filling them with guava, pineapple, coconut and vanilla cream. Savory breads are often stuffed with ham. Cookies even come in the shape of a pig. While every Mexican market in PDX carries these kind of goods, a smaller number make their own breads and pastries. Of these, two are a step above the rest: Yesenia’s and La Espiga Dorada. Don’t be shy. Just follow the grandmother with toddlers in tow, or the day laborer picking up some quick fuel, or the professional getting a box of sweets for the office. Grab a tray and some tongs and load up from the bakery case or the racks. (Hint: Items from the rack are fresher.)
Whether you want to avoid seeing people making googly eyes and kissie faces at each other while you try to eat or whether you just want to avoid paying double for a meal served by a frazzled waiter, here are 10 options to escape the trappings of dining out on Valentine’s Day. They’re un-hip and non-trendy. And most are inexpensive and casual, too. Also, because most of these places are rarely slammed, it’s a good list to keep around for a Friday or Saturday night when waiting 45 minutes for a table sounds especially miserable.
In the Oregonian’s recent anti-foodie invective, Lee Williams highlighted Taco Time as a place where patriotic, American-cheese-loving Portlanders eat Mexican food. Todd Pedersen, owner of two local Taco Time stores, though, laid down the gauntlet:
“A lot of foodies don’t want to go to chains even though they might actually have some good food, just because of the thought….They might go to (fast-food restaurants); they just don’t admit it!”
[Pedersen] challenges his menu against the few and favored Mexican carts, trucks and taquerias of the foodies: “Come on,” he says. “Let’s blind taste-test them.”
He doesn’t just claim that Taco Time can compete against some random mom and pop Mexican joint, taqueria, or taco truck. He says it can compete against the very best. Okay, as El Mariachi would say: “Let’s play.”
Food carts, of course, are the awesome right now, and nowhere moreso than Portland where we have a higher number per capita than any other city in the country. Fine with me. When I travel I eat on the street more than in restaurants.
However, a cart with a wood-burning or gas oven running at 800 degrees slinging out freshly made pizzas with ingredients like fresh mozz and doughs allowed to ferment for 24 hours? Now that’s the real awesome. And Portland has three of them: Pizza Depokos, Pyro Pizza, and Wy’East Pizza. While I had tried two — Pyro and Wy’East — with the opening of the third, Depokos, a crawl was in order to judge their relative merits. The obvious partner in pizza-gorging to invite was Adam Lindsley.
Michael’s Beef & Sausage Combo — Wet
Perhaps Clint Eastwood’s sleeper Gran Torino was overlooked by the Oscars for non-PC exchanges like this:
Barber Martin: There. You finally look like a human being again. You shouldn’t wait so long between hair cuts, you cheap son of a bitch.
Walt Kowalski: Yeah. I’m surprised you’re still around. I was always hoping you’d die off and they got someone in here that knew what the hell they were doing. Instead, you’re just hanging around like the duop dego you are.
Barber Martin: That’ll be ten bucks, Walt.
Walt Kowalski: Ten bucks? Jesus Christ, Marty. What are you, half Jew or somethin’? You keep raising the damn prices all the time.
Barber Martin: It’s been ten bucks for the last five years, you hard-nosed pollock son of a bitch.
Walt Kowalski: Yeah, well keep the change.
Barber Martin: See you in three weeks, prick.
Walt Kowalski: Not if I see you first, dipshit.
PC or not, though, it has a certain authenticity. And I’ve lived it at Michael’s — just substitute the racial slurs for political rants.
Last time I was in, Michael saw one of his regulars sit down and he emerged from the kitchen to announce to the entire room that Obama was taking our country down the road of Nazi Germany. In between bites, the regular responded that Michael must have heard that from his buddy Rush Limbaugh while he was selling him oxycotin. Another customer across from me got up in disgust, moving to the other end of the restaurant. A lady from behind the counter came out to tell Michael to, “Shut up and go home,” while another customer started going off about how it was Bush who was the Nazi.
There was thumping of chests and busting of balls, but it was all for show. I’d heard about Michael’s rants, but never really seen one. I always assumed that he was a bit of an asshole, but worth putting up with for the food. Now I think it’s just a wonderful schtick from another place and another era — a welcome anachronism in a blue collar neighborhood undergoing a lot of change with the addition of Le Pigeon, Biwa, Simpatica, and Noble Rot.
And if you can’t handle the schtick, get the food to go, because they make some great sandwiches.
Ed Levine, perhaps the foremost authority on pizza in the United States, likes to point out that pizza is really just bread, so you can’t have good pizza without good bread. The same certainly should be the case for sandwiches, which are just meat and cheese stuffed into bread. Thus, in looking for a good sandwich in Portland, the artisan bakeries deserve special focus.
In tasting sandwiches at all of Portland’s best bakeries, none better shines a light on the importance of good bread and the way that bread can give character to a sandwich than Little T. The fillings are fine, but the breads are the star of each sandwich.
Bunk’s Meatball Hero
“You can’t judge a book by its cover.”
~ 20th Century American Idiom
“Beauty … is but skin deep.”
~ Sir Thomas Overbury, 1613
“Food all looks the same coming out.”
~ Some Smart-Ass
Often suffused with smoke with a dinky storefront, there’s not much to draw you to or in Bunk Sandwiches except the line of people out front. Their sandwiches don’t often photograph well for whatever reason. Neither does my wife. But I don’t eat a photograph of a sandwich from Bunk anymore than I kiss a picture of my wife. The sandwiches may not be pretty, but they sure taste damned good. Thus, the line.
On the continuum of sandwiches from traditional to gourmet, Bunk’s give the impression of something traditional and comforting, yet the menu indicates, and the patient palate discovers, something creative and distinctive. But somehow, the flavors are never unexpected.
Yogyakarta street art
The weather got progressively cooler as I moved south from Bangkok to Kuala Lumpur and finally to Yogyakarta, the medium-sized city of artists and students near many of Java’s most famous archeological sites. Each night along the main drag, the three-wheeled bicycle taxis of Indonesia lumbered in figure-eights while their drivers yelled out to potential customers by the name of their transport: “Becak, becak, becak.” Young kids and their friends on scooters zipped between the pedal-powered people movers, as if to thumb their nose at the 3rd world. Warungs — street stalls, most with open-sided canopies and blankets to sit on — would slowly emerge and illuminate, signs advertising nasi goreng, rendang, gulai nangka, and, of course, the favorite, ayam goreng. A mile of bubbling cauldrons and fragrant spices, each vendor imploring you to give them a try, insisting their makanan (food) is the best. Finally, Portland has a restaurant, Taste of Jakarta, that perfectly captures the flavors and style of these warungs.
3 Hermanos (moved and renamed La Chiquita)
Last December, Robb Walsh, a Beard-award winning food writer from the Houston Press, contacted me about a project he was working on. You’ll notice one of his books has regularly been featured on my site in the left column. I own several of his books and respect his work a lot, so I was honored to have him contact me — to even know who I am.
The project? Taco trucks outside the southwest, how they provide “formerly virgin taco territories” the opportunity for some truly authentic comida — an article for Gourmet Magazine. Would I like to help? Hell, yeah.
Version 2.0 of Extramsg.com’s dining guide and tip sheet for the Portland metro area is finally finished. You can visit it here or by clicking the link at the left under Portland Food News.
The tip sheet has been greatly overhauled. Categories, such as Indian and Sushi/Japanese have been added, but also many of the entries in each category have been updated or completely changed. There’s also a new listing of “Quick Picks” by neighborhood in descending order by price.
Hopefully this tip sheet will help visitors and new residents of Portland — or those looking to expand their culinary horizons. If you would like to criticize or comment on the tip sheet, please follow the link in the dining guide itself.