In Vietnam, pistachios are a rare imported luxury. At Jason Myers' new Vietnamese cart, Rua, they're a baseline. His green papaya salad subs in pistachios for the customary peanuts, and the result is a richer, denser-flavored salad, though with less contrast and sharpness. And this is a pattern with the food at Rua: It is a richer, low-spice version of Vietnamese street fare that lets the French still have their say.
Myers is the onetime ringmaster at the Sideshow cart—which served poutine and a fancy hamburger—but switched gears after a culinary excursion to Vietnam. So duck fat and ground beef have given way to fried chicken and pork meatballs. The cart's Saigon fried chicken is a tenderly balanced sweet-spicy-sour version with fairly little crisp on the skin, served up solo ($5) or boneless in a banh mi ($7).
Fried chicken is Portland's new bacon, all fat and salty comfort, and Myers' version goes down lovely and easy: The sweet fish-sauced chicken is the Thai equivalent of applewood-smoking. The banh mi uses a Pearl Bakery baguette that is, again, a bit richer and chewier than customary on a Vietnamese sandwich, and is gentle in both the pickling of its accompaniments and in pepper heat. The pork belly ($8) doubles up on the fatty umami, but at the expense of interesting contrast—it's under-crisped. Stick with the chicken or the meatballs ($7), which are satisfying and sticky with sweetness.
Ginger-garlic rice bowls ($7) are too mild-mannered—you're better off getting your brown rice as a side to fried chicken, and spending $2 on a hilariously strong Vietnamese coffee whose bitterness cries out for sweet condensed milk that will do nothing to blunt the amped caffeine. An hour after your meal, you'll be chattering like an idiot about fried chicken, looking like you'll pop a blood vessel.
EAT: Rua, 902 SW Washington St., 971-258-2975, ruapdx.com. 11:30 am-6 pm Monday-Saturday, 11:30 am-4 pm Sunday.