Amid the Portland hype cycle, newly expanded Zilla Sake (1806 NE Alberta St., 503-288-8372, zillasake.com) is weird as all hell. Rather than make a huge splash and then coast on rep, Zilla slowly and surely picked up serious steam. Now, it's a tiny juggernaut punching well above its weight.
The once-cramped spot renovated this spring to include a full bar space, and celebrated by carving up an entire maguro tuna with Japanese knife shop Seisuke Knife. They've built their bottle collection to a near-insane 90 sakes by the glass ($6-$14 for four ounces), more options than almost anywhere in the U.S—including alcohol-added honjozos, old-school-funky yamahais and an a nine-deep selection of unpasteurized namazakes including a dry, intense and wild Chiyomusubi made with pungent heirloom rice.
Co-owner Kate Koo is encyclopedic in her sake knowledge, telling stories of the strange bureaucratic tax quirk that let a brewer make sake using government samples of Watari Bune, an ancient and prized heirloom rice strain that had long been extinct. It's one of the world's rarest sakes, which you probably couldn't even find in Tokyo—but that junmai daiginjo is here for $28 for four ounces, and tastes like the purest essence of rice grain. Rum Club's Matt Kesteloot has also spruced up the cocktail menu, including a summery gin-cognac Strawberry Magic ($11) made with fresh berry pulp.
Meanwhile, the sushi sourcing has also gone nuts—Koo and Departure alum Sam Saltos have been gathering contacts in Hokkaido and Hawaii and Tokyo's famed Tsukiji fish market to net cold-grown scallops and blooming sea urchin that shames the uni elsewhere. On August 7, the bar will host an artisan tasting with sake bingo, hosted by "Sakemen" dressed in Mexican wrestling masks. Zilla has become a monster—a circus made of fish and booze.