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March 10th, 2010 KELLY CLARKE | Special Section Stories
 

Hot Chefs, Cheap Eats

A financial crisis never means having to say you’re hungry.

     
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SHACKIN’ UP: Lincoln co-owners Jenn Louis and David Welch grub on jambalaya and crawfish pie at Trey Corkern’s Swamp Shack.
IMAGE: Darryl James

If you want to know a good, cheap place to grub, ask the people who spend 12 or 14 hours a day stuck in a kitchen. When you’re clockin’ that many hours at a stovetop, you have little patience for anything but the most high-quality, low-cost feasts during your meager off hours. For nearly a decade, WW has been trackin’ down some of the most gifted chefs and restaurant owners in Portland to find out exactly how they fill their bellies on a budget. This year? It’s all about sloppy sandwiches, dim sum and crackly, fatty chicken skin (it’s only a buck!).

Chef Jenn Louis and David Welch, co-owners of Lincoln


[Jenn Louis says:] We’re not fancy people—I wear Dickies every day when I’m not at work. Sunday is the day where we get to sleep in. We go to Chen’s Good Taste (18 NW 4th Ave., 223-3838) in Chinatown. We’re creatures of habit; we get the same thing all the time. There are these great bowls of soup—it’s like $5 for a huge bowl. David likes noodles—I don’t—so he gets thin-egg-noodle ramen and Chinese dumplings with mushrooms, shrimp and pork. It’s awesome. I get soup with dumplings and bok choy. They have this really great chile condiment, too. I’m like, “Let’s split a bowl,” and David says, “No, I need my own.” And then we each only end up eating half anyway.

Also, there’s a little cart downtown called the Swamp Shack (Southwest 5th Avenue and Stark Street, 225-281-4675), run by Trey [Corkern]. He’s from New Orleans and a super lovely guy. The food’s fantastic. I’m into everything there. David loves the crawfish pie ($3) and the jambalaya ($6). And the red beans and rice. We’re big Ristretto Roasters (3808 N Williams Ave., 288-8667) junkies, too. I’m not even a coffee-shop gal, but I like going in for a coffee and [Grand Central] toast with jam (rotating flavors like peach raspberry, apple butter and cherry, $2.50). Everyone loves their toast. It’s like a non-alcoholic daytime bar. Oh, and we love Helvetia Tavern (10275 NW Helvetia Road, Hillsboro, 647-5286). Great food, great guy [owner Michael Lampros], love the burgers ($4.25-$8.25). Just love sitting out on the back porch in the summer. I just get a simple cheeseburger. I love burgers, I love meat. I couldn’t care less about the bun. I just want the meat.

David Anderson, chef at Genoa and Accanto


Things I’m obsessed with? I like picking up the meatball hero ($8) at Bunk (621 SE Morrison St., 477-9515)—I gotta get it every time. It’s sloppy, that’s the appeal. I don’t go that cheap. I’ve turned [my wife] into a food snob. Being in the food business and knowing how much food costs…if somebody is selling a bowl of lamb for $5, you wonder where it comes from. I like Hopworks (2944 SE Powell Blvd., 232-4677)—they have awesome food and beer. I get the burger with blue cheese and Cajun fries ($9.50). I just discovered Taste Unique (2134 SE Division St., 206-7059). I’ve had their lasagna and pasta dishes ($8). I like the authenticity of the pasta. And they’ve got great takeout stuff—frozen dishes you can cook at home ($15-$20, take-and-bake lasagna for three to four people). I usually cook Indian at home, but I really like Tandoor Kitchen (406 SW Oak St., 243-7777). I know they are all about the tandoor, but their curries are amazing ($9 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet). [For home ingredients] I go to Fubonn Supermarket (2850 SE 82nd Ave., 517-8877) if I need anything Asian. I can find anything weird out there.

Kurt Huffman, co-owner of Foster Burger, Ping, Grüner and Whiskey Soda Lounge; managing director of ChefStable


I tend to eat at places we’re working on. I branch out less than I like to. But I do have some favorites. An Xuyen Bakery (5345 SE Foster Road, 788-0866) has this garlic-and-pork pâté sandwich...most people get the banh mi, but I love this one. It’s $2.25 and it’s a big sandwich! Only $2.25—it’s really, really good. I’m sure lots of people say Nong’s Khao Man Gai (Southwest 10th Avenue and Alder Street, 971-255-3480)—that steamed chicken ($6), it’s fantastic. And you can add liver and double the chicken...that’s $10. But everybody should be buying the chicken skin, too—it’s a buck! You gotta ask her for it. She fries the chicken skin around 11 am and it’s great, it has a lot of texture and flavor, like cracklins. Everyone gets addicted to it.

I’m kind of ashamed to admit it: Recently I had friends in from out of town and we went to Montage (301 SE Morrison St., 234-1324). I mean, the service isn’t good; the kitchen looks like it’s openly violating health codes. But the mac and cheese is good. It’s good in the same way sour-cream-and-onion Pringles are good. We had the rock-shrimp mac and cheese. I took a bite and thought, “Oh shit, this is really good.” I felt guilty for being a food dick. They’ve got a good formula—it tastes like garlic, Velveeta and heavy cream. It could win a white trash award.


FULL MEAL DEAL: Metrovino’s Gregory Denton says he always adds a fried egg to his fave Fuller’s lunch: ham and turkey on housemade white bread. IMAGE: Darryl James

Gregory Denton, chef at Metrovino


I’m a big sandwich fan. I really like to go to Fuller’s (136 NW 9th Ave., 222-5608)—it’s a diner in the Pearl District. I get the turkey and ham sandwich ($6.25) and get a fried over-medium egg ($1 extra) put in it. They make their own bread there, and I get the white bread—not toasted or grilled or griddled. It’s so simple and it reminds me of the sandwiches I’d eat when I was growing up. I get a side of their hashbrowns ($3) too. They are super hot and crispy. Also, it’s always quick service—really efficient.

On days off, I like to go to Nicholas (318 SE Grand Ave., 235-5123). You can get a mezza platter for one ($8.75) and it feeds two people. Get the chicken kebabs ($9) and they give you a huge thing of rice with it. And there’s no alcohol, so it’s always cheaper. [Laughs.] Lots of places are cheap until you start drinking.

On Sundays, I go to Wong’s King (8733 SE Division St., 788-8883. Dim sum 10 am-3 pm Monday-Friday, 9:30 am-3 pm Saturday-Sunday) for dim sum. It’s a hangover cure, in my opinion. You just load up—you always think it’s gonna be $80 and it’s like $35 total for everybody. The [dim sum cart] ladies don’t have time for questions or answers, it’s business. Just go, “I’ll take that, and that!” until you’re full. The Shanghai soup dumplings ($4.50) are so good. And the short ribs ($3.50)—they add a lot of black pepper and braise the heck out of them. I swear they taste like foie gras. And lunch? Red Onion (1123 NW 23rd Ave., 208-2634). Their lunch specials are $7.50-$10 and it’s a mountain of food. I love the fact they have that traditional-Thai-dish menu that says “no sendbacks” on it. They had this fried snapper with pepper oil and green peppercorns ($14) that was so good—crispy, spicy and with a little bit of sweetness. They also have angel wings ($7)—they stuff chicken wings with pork. So good. Also, everything comes out rippin’ hot. I really appreciate that.

Ginger Rapport, market master at Beaverton Farmers Market


Contrary to popular belief, there is great grub on the west side. One of our favorites is the lunch buffet at Swagat (4325 SW 109th Ave., Beaverton, 626-3000; 2074 NW Lovejoy St., 227-4300). It’s $7.95 for all you can eat. Normally I’m not into buffets, but Indian food holds well in a steam table so the quality is excellent. I’m a vegetarian, so there are always great choices for me.

Another not-well-known place in Beaverton is Ava Roasteria (4655 SW Hall Blvd., Beaverton, 641-7270). I don’t know what they do to their coffee, but it is out of this world and the building is amazing. They must have spent a fortune on their waterfalls and river that surrounds the building. They have an outdoor fire pit so you can sit outside earlier in the year. It’s right next to the market site.

Lastly, there is a bento place in a nondescript strip mall on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway called Tokyo Grill (6551 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway, 595-3260). Everyone around here loves it. For $5.95 you get a “mountain” of chicken. Apparently bang for the buck is the attraction. I think my son lives on it when he isn’t eating at my house.

Daniel Mondok, chef, co-owner of Foster Burger


Jeez. I like the Koi Fusion taco truck (koifusionpdx.com or Twitter @koifusion for truck stops). If I see the truck and am hungry, I’ll go. (Sorry, I don’t have enough time to follow the truck around.) I like the pork-belly taco ($2)—it’s good. And I’m kind of a sucker for the ceviche ($7.50) at ¿Por Que No? (4635 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 954-3138; 3524 N Mississippi Ave., 467-4149). They have Taco Tuesdays (50 cents off regular taco price), and that’s my day off, so I always get a fish taco and a special taco (last time it was beef tongue), and I always get the tinga, something spicy. By my house I get a slice with my kid and my girl at Bella Faccia Pizzeria (2934 NE Alberta St., 282-0600). I get some sort of vegetarian slice ($3.50) so we can share. I’m usually one of the guys who doesn’t eat crust on pizza, but their crust is perfect: crunchy and not doughy, and still has flavor on the edges. We also go to Cha’Ba Thai (5810 NE Sandy Blvd., 282-3970) and get the spicy squid salad ($9.50)—that’s a craver I pick up and bring home.


BAR BACK: Pastry chef Kristen Murray sips a glass of red at Kir Wine Bar. IMAGE: Darryl James

Kristen Murray, pastry chef at Fenouil


My favorite inexpensive food and wine? I adore Kir Wine Bar (22 NW 7th Ave., 232-3063). I always get the brandade and mussels (around $10). And I’ve been going to a new place on North Mississippi called Mee Sen (3924 N Mississippi Ave., 445-1909)—they have really delicious noodles. I get the prawns with rice noodles ($9) and this great Tom Yum cocktail ($8) with kaffir lime and chiles. Does Broder’s (2508 SE Clinton St., 736-3333) gravlax BLT ($9.50, “Broder Club”) count? I love that it’s got the avocado, bacon, tomatoes and gravlax. And I really like the housemade pastas ($10-$15) at Cafe Allora (502 NW 9th Ave., 445-4612). I feel like a lot of people don’t know about that place. Plus, their bresaola ($10) is really yummy—it’s got lots of arugula. Dessert? Well, the best dessert cart is the Sugar Cube (4237 N Mississippi Ave., thesugarcubepdx.com). I love what [owner Kir Jensen] does there. And the flight of the drinking chocolates at Cacao (414 SW 13th Ave., 241-0656)—it’s $2 [per shot] for an amazing tasting that will set you off for a bit, much better than coffee. I’m getting hungry just thinking of all this....
 
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