North Portland is not a culinary wasteland by any means. But when it comes to a really rad dining-out experience (outside of North Mississippi Avenue) the fifth quadrant could use some help. Enter Sagittarius Cafe, an eclectic and inexpensive comfort-food joint that is perhaps the first restaurant in the Overlook neighborhood worth a trek to visit from as far away as Southeast Portland. Really.
Sagittarius, owned by first-time restaurateurs Robin and Mike Clark, opened a little more than a month ago. The couple, who live blocks away, were inspired to open their orange and gun-metal gray kitchen after being bummed there was no place any good to eat within walking distance.
Be forewarned, the decor's a bit confusing: A mural of the restaurant's name and the burnished metal sign up front scream late-'90s alt-Seattle, while the restaurant's fishbowl lamp fixtures are 1960s mod. The light box at the entrance way says "contempo-upscale sushi joint."
The menu's just as eclectic but makes a lot more sense. There's Indian and Thai dishes alongside its American fare, but that's because Sagittarius seems to be all about presenting clever (and even healthy) takes on comfort food from all over the global map. Part of that comfort lies in sumptuous twists given to venerable staples.
A rosemary mac and cheese ($7.50) has a subtle—but not too subtle—herbal flavor. You'll want to eat it slowly because they've really got the silky, creamy texture of the dish down. The fish and chips ($8.95), meanwhile, are easily the best in Portland. The fish fillets are not overly battered, and they're served with a dill-heavy "Euro Tartar," sweet mango chutney and malt vinegar. The Sag's fries—perfectly floppy and only a tad greasy—are made the way a fry should be: from an actual potato and served hot as hell. Burgers are pretty excellent as well, but before you go beef, try the Baby Luau chicken burger ($7), which adds ample bacon slices and pineapple relish to a grilled breast.
The restaurant's ethnic dishes are a mixed bag. The Italian Arrow sandwich, filled with mushrooms, peppers, onion and garlic ($5.50) is a bit floppy itself and not as substantive as the other dishes. The citrus couscous salad ($7.25), however, is a bargain—a trough of yummy couscous served with warmed pita and chilled tzatziki.
Desserts are big, housemade and shareable. Two huge scoops of ice cream and four pecan toffee bars (Toffee Coffee Fantasy, $3.50) easily fed four people.
An informal Overlook 'hood consensus has already been reached that the Sag is NoPo's answer to Dots, Southeast Clinton Street's french fries-and-booze spot. I'd agree with that, sort of. Like Dots, Sagittarius has a full bar, but the food's better and I've yet to have to wait to eat.
Would I be this psyched about Sagittarius Cafe if I didn't live within walking distance myself? The answer is hell yes.
Sagittarius Cafe, 2710 N Killingsworth St., 289-7557. 11 am-midnight Wednesday-Monday.