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March 11th, 2009 KELLY CLARKE | Featured Stories
 

Hot Chefs, Cheap Eats

Where the pros head when they’ve got a growling belly and a thin wallet.

     
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PHO KING: Saucebox’s Gregory Gourdet slurps a bowl of $6.50 Pho PDX beef noodle soup.
IMAGE: Vivian Johnson

Crazy busy and perennially strapped for cash, Portland’s chefs and restaurant owners, when they aren’t slaving over a hot stove for you, want to stuff their faces with the best grub possible at the lowest price. So, once again, WW has rounded up some of our favorite foodmakers and picked their brains for which meals they crave when their resources are meager. The answers were varied—and tasty—from Sunday-morning soup and coffee to greasy, drippy, amazing tortas. These chefs are all hungry for deals.

MICAH CAMDEN
Chef-owner of Yakuza; owner of Beast, D.O.C. and Fats (opening June ’09)

I live in the Pearl with all the MILFs and soccer moms. I started going to Yoga in the Pearl to pick up chicks, but I found out that the food at [the adjoining cafe] Blossoming Lotus (925 NW Davis St., 228-0048) is really fucking good. I mean, it’s vegan—I don’t feel strongly about that either way—but the food’s really good quality and it’s really cheap for what you get…and it’s really healthy. And it’s contributed to a loss of 45 to 50 pounds off me in the last six months. I normally get the Indian Bowl ($9)—it’s a curry vegetable thing with brown rice and steamed kale. Or I get the “live wraps” ($9): They’re raw [foods] with, like, sprouts and cashew hummus and cabbage leaves. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.

I’m also a pretty big fan of Biwa (215 SE 9th Ave., 239-8830). The noodles are good, and the place is fairly consistent. It’s cheap. You go and get a bowl of ramen ($9) and you’re good to go. I mean, it’s not as cheap [as a cart], but you get to sit inside and stay warm and look trendy.

You know, honest to God, I love Cha Cha Cha (1208 NW Glisan St., 221-2111, and other locations). It’s in the Pearl too. You can’t beat a breakfast burrito for $4.95. I get the shrimp burrito or chicken burrito ($4.95-$5.95)—it’s a full meal. It’s the size of both of your fists.

You want the crème de la crème of cheap eats? RingSide’s happy hour (2165 W Burnside St., 223-1513; happy hour 9:45 pm-midnight Monday-Saturday, 4-6 pm and 9:45-11:30 pm Sunday). It is sooo ghetto fabulous. You feel like a gangster when you walk in the bar. It’s all, like, brown and dark…and you feel like you should be rolling up in a Mercedes and have a hairy chest with gold chains. You can get steak bites for, like, $2.25—and this is a nice-sized plate of steak bites. Oh, man. For $2 you get a pile of French fries and a big iceberg wedge salad ($8.25) with bay shrimp and ranch dressing, like it’s 1982. Last time I was there Greg Oden was there, and I was like, “Oh yeah, I’m the shit.”

JANIS MARTIN
Chef-owner of Tanuki

The only time I’m ever home is Sunday morning. And the first thing I think about when I wake up is, “I’m going to go to HA VL (2738 SE 82nd Ave., No. 103, 772-0103) and get one of those crazy strong Vietnamese coffees ($2.75) and some soup ($7). If I’m able to get up early enough I get the chicken soup (pho ga), but they’re usually out of that by 10 or 11 am. It’s all about the broth. It’s such a cool mom-and-pop place, there’s so much love put into it. And that [sweet] coffee is just awesome. [Owner] Ha Luu puts a little salt in it; no one else does that. And there’s the deconstructed xiu mai bahn mi ($4): They give you the meatball and sausage and all these sauces and the pickles on the side, you tear off a piece of bread and pick at it the way you would Ethiopian food. That’s what to get.

Also, Bar Mingo (811 NW 21st Ave., 445-4646; happy hour all Sunday) is right down the street [from Tanuki]. Monday is my big cleaning day, so I can go eat while I wait for the smell of bleach to subside, and kill my brain cells in more interesting ways. Being a cook, mainly I drink. Aron Goldberg, the bartender, let me try bourbon he infused with candied, dehydrated fig, with vanilla and cinnamon (Millionaire’s Manhattan, $9). The menu changes, but I basically get anything with bread because I don’t have bread here—it’s a Japanese restaurant. Their grilled [Yukon gold] bread is always perfect—perfect amount of olive oil, little bit of salt; it comes with this spicy goat cheese ($8) that’s great.

There’s this new little bar that opened up, The Observatory (8115 SE Stark St., 445-6284). The cool thing about them, well, it’s not like they focus on fried foods, but anything they fry is good. They must use fresh oil every day. Awesome French fries ($8, with burger), awesome fry bread ($4)—flat, round, homemade dough with fresh oregano and a little bit of salt and a side of crème fraîche or roasted pepper puree. And they’ve got a tom kah cocktail ($8)—chile-infused vodka with a kick served up, shaken, with a little bit of coconut cream. It’s awesome too.

GREGORY GOURDET
Chef at Saucebox
If I’m going to drive out somewhere, I like to stick with the Asian flavors because they’re so fresh and vibrant. So, for Korean, I go to Dae Jung Kum (12275 SW Canyon Road, Beaverton, 641-1734). They mostly serve shabu-shabu ($21.95-$26.95, feeds at least three people), which is like hot pot—but you can get all your Korean staples like bibimbap and seafood pancakes and rice cakes…. Usually I roll with a crew, and we’re vegetarians to meat eaters so we’ll go from the tofu to the chicken to the shrimp to the beef. It’s just super fun to go with a large group to places like that…very affordable and the portions are pretty big.

When I’m downtown, my favorite little Vietnamese pho spot is Pho PDX (827 SW 2nd Ave., Suite B, 241-7695). I’ll usually stop by there and grab some pho ($TK) and come into work and all the flavors are great. The vegetarian pho, the beef pho and the chicken pho…it’s just a big huge bowl of veggies and noodles and herbs. You get the sprouts, the Thai basil, the chiles. It’s awesome. They make all their broths right there, so everything’s really fresh and vibrant and flavorful. I don’t do [tripe and beef tendon]…I’m a chef, so I try to be wild, but I’m like, “Just meat, please.”

And Ping (102 NW 4th Ave., 229-7464) just opened. It’s just down the street from me. The first half of their menu is all these random skewers. They’re only, like, $2.50 each. The shrimp skewer is just grilled shrimp in the shell, and the sauce...Korean sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper, and a lime wedge. You just squeeze the lime into the salt and pepper, and you peel under the shrimp and dip it into the sauce. It was super simple, super clean and delicious. They have baby-octopus skewers, too.

GABE ROSEN
Chef-owner of Biwa

I get off work kind of late and I don’t drive, so I tend to be pretty geographically limited. We’re really lucky—almost everybody at the restaurant lives at the neighborhood, so we tend to walk home together a lot. There’s a whole bunch of food carts open late on 12th and Hawthorne, and we go there a lot. I really like Potato Champion (myspace.com/potatochampion). At first I was real into the poutine ($4.50), but now I just get a large cone of French fries ($4.50) with Dijon mustard (no mayo, I think it’s real gross). I really also like the clam-strip po’boy ($6) at one of the other carts. It’s Cajun—Bubba Bernie’s(also at Southeast 12th Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard). It’s fried clam strips, shredded lettuce, tomatoes and remoulade. I’ve always loved fried clam strips, and I very rarely find myself at an Applebee’s or somewhere where you can actually eat shit like that!

I also make it downtown for a little bit. I have lunch at [Chen’s] Good Taste (18 NW 4th Ave., 223-3838) semi-regularly. And they’re awesome. Their wonton soup ($4.95) is, I think, one of the greatest things ever. Also, they have a lamb hot pot ($9.50) that’s really good.

On the weekends, on my days off, we tend to eat at a lot of bakeries. We go to Little T American Baker (2600 SE Division St., 238-3458) for breakfast. Lately, I’ve been getting a ham and cheese on pretzel roll ($4.50)—that’s pretty delicious. Honestly, we eat a lot of their long, skinny baguettes ($1.75), too. I mean, I subsist almost exclusively during the week on butter and salami sandwiches when I’m not at the food carts.

KIR JENSEN
Former owner-baker of Sugar Cube bake cart, now at Two Tarts

Obviously I’m a huge supporter of the carts. One that’s fantastic is the Savor Soup House (Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street, 750-5634). [Owner] Nancy Ettinger makes homemade soups ($3.50-$5) and she has a grilled cheese bar ($4, plus 50 cents-$1 per topping) so you can have all types of toppings like truffle oil, Gruyère cheese…one I had was with Applewood-smoked bacon and homemade apple butter. So good. She does Hungarian mushroom, tomato soup, a pozole that’s delicious with hominy and pulled pork. It’s a comfort thing. It takes you back to being a kid.

Choza’s (Southwest 9th Avenue and Alder Street) is a tiny Peruvian cart that was right next to Sugar Cube. They have this crazy little hangover-cure in a bowl—grilled chicken, amazing chile green sauce, lettuce and fries ($6). It’s just so wrong that it’s right.

One of my personal favorites is Los Gorditos (4937 SE Division St., 875-2615). Best tortas EVER. I get a carne torta ($4.50) with everything on it—they grill these wonderful buns that soak up all the meat-nasty that’s been on there all day. Then it’s heavily slathered with mayonnaise, topped with beans, cheese, lettuce, jalapeños, salsa, avocado and the carne—which is, like, buttery deliciousness. It basically falls apart all over the place. You end up wearing half of it. I like food I can wear.

And I heart Wong’s King (8733 SE Division St., 788-8883) for dim sum, baby. The dining room is all gold and grand—you’re stepping into somewhere…not in Portland. It’s so tasty. Those buns, the hum bao ($2.50), with barbecue pork, oh, goddamn they are so good. And the broccoli rabe ($2.50), my God!

Everything you ever wanted to know about chefs is summed up in this quote:
I have a lot of booze and condiments at home. You go in my refrigerator and there’s pickles and olives and booze, hot sauce, ketchup…mayonnaise. There’s not much going on there. There’s usually a few bags of An Xuyen Bakery (5345 SE Foster Road, 788-0866 ) French rolls in the freezer in case I get feisty, but I discovered that keeping food at the home was a hopeless pretension. It was just so in case anyone came to the house I didn’t look like a pathetic alcoholic that lives off frozen bread and vodka.—Janis Martin, Tanuki


MORE: Drool over more inexpensive restaurants in WW’s 2009 Cheap Eats guide, inserted into this issue or online.
 
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