Open since last summer on Northeast Alberta Street, Radio Room, designed by Ankrom Moisan Associated Architects (the big guns behind Hotel Lucia and 50 Plates), stands out. The former 1949 Texaco gas station is decked out in sleek chrome and black pleather booths with seating for 200-plus, roll-up garage doors, an outdoor gas fire pit, heat-lamp-adorned outdoor areas, and enough bike racks for a rally.
For all the time and expense of the posh retrofit, Radio Room was oddly erratic its first few months. Brunch service, morning-to-midnight hours and server uniforms all came and went, leaving one to wonder: What exactly is this place?
Well settle on a bar with lots of food: The six-page menu is heavy on the drinks, and in that department RR is dialed in. Wine is served in juice glasses ($4-$7) and generous cocktails don't cut corners (quality spirits and liqueurs, fresh ingredients; $6-$9).
Small plates are hit and miss. On one visit, the Radio Cakes ($6) were mushy polenta molded into star shapes, grilled and served with an underseasoned tomato sauce. Next time around, the star-shaped cakes were crisp and golden, creamy and full-flavored on the inside, and served with a smoked paprika sauce.
When the weather is nice, Radio Room servers are on the run from the street-level bar, kitchen and dining rooms to the candlelit upper-level deck—beloved for ashtrays, heat lamps and a bird's-eye view of Northeast Portland. Perhaps the trek distracted servers from delivering water on one visit and bread to our table on another. A standout entree is the ahi steak ($14), on one visit it was rubbed with paprika and seared to a perfect inner pink and complemented by crisp, sautéed green beans, pine nuts and carrots, and a mound of skin-on mashed potatoes with gravy. Radio's chicken and dumplings ($11) used to be mealy and served in an unnaturally dark, Dead Sea-salty broth, but on a recent visit this comfort dish was resuscitated—fresh and well-seasoned with lighter, more toothsome dumplings. Other entrees include prawn carbonara ($12), and pasta-less eggplant lasagna ($13), plus plenty of sandwiches ($6-$8) and starters ($5-$11) to choose from.
Still, if Radio Room wants to succeed as a restaurant-bar in this area it needs a niche. The Bye and Bye rocks an all-vegan menu; Alberta Street Pub hosts live music every night of the week. What's Radio Room's specialty? Even though the staff is quick to share the story behind the establishment's name (Cold War…Russian spies…radio transmissions…), Radio Room lacks a clear M.O. Its current frequency? A go-to spot for a well-rounded menu till the wee hours.