The food court has long been a place where you can sample the world.
Though traditionally associated with mall staples like lukewarm pizza and soggy beef and broccoli, the neon-lit cafeterias you were probably a lot more fond of in your youth held a special appeal. Where else could you zip from stand to stand filling a plastic tray with everything from New York-style slices to Greek gyros to Asian stir fry all under one roof?
Fortunately, the quality of cuisine has finally caught up to the genius of the shopping center smorgasbord layout, as Bar Miranda (827 SW 2nd Ave., 971-319-1184, barmirandapdx.com) illustrates.
Tucked away in the mezzanine of the Portland Food Hall, you'd never know there was a tropical retreat amid downtown's World Trade Center office buildings unless you were looking for it.
Founded by four veterans of the local catering and beverage industry, the Portland Food Hall caters primarily to the surrounding 9-to-5 crowd on lunch break—hence the utilitarian main floor, with its simple stool seating and storefronts with room to queue up for orders to go.
But upstairs, you can catch a glimpse of a glowing flamingo-pink sign that announces, "This must be the place."
Named after Carmen Miranda, the mid-20th-century Brazilian film star who often rocked a towering bonnet of fruit, Bar Miranda injects the loft with its namesake's hip-swaying effervescence. The bar is covered in azure-colored tiles, while a broad-leafed palm blooming with pink flowers must have been uprooted from a garden on the other side of the equator. The sultry ambience is aided by the marimba-accented '70s funk soundtrack.
The cocktail list is what you'd expect at a South American resort. You could only improve the Summer Tropic ($10) by serving it in a hollowed-out coconut—the sweet, cloudy water from the fruit is mixed with an herbaceous bison grass vodka, absinthe and lime, creating a poolside-ready concoction. But during happy hour (4-7 pm), a mojito ($7) should be in your hand. With a kiss of white rum and a generous layering of fresh mint throughout the pebble ice, Miranda's version is one of the most refreshing in town.
The "beach vacation" vibe is abetted by the food downstairs. In particular, Lechon provides flavors from Argentina, Chile and Patagonia via crab tostadas ($8), burrata caprese ($7) and sweet, tender brisket ($8) that comes nestled in tortillas with velvety avocado and a zesty Peruvian red onion relish.
The best part? While every other bar within a five-block radius is jammed full, Miranda is a well-enough-kept secret that it's effectively a refuge from the masses—you just might get the whole place to yourself.