Customization With a Side of Sass Is on the Menu at Jojo

In this case, excess equals success.

I knew Jojo wasn’t messing around when they served me a chicken sandwich with a side of chewing gum.

More than a helpful hint, the stick of Extra with my entree was Jojo in a nutshell: sticky, silly and, yeah, a little extra. This particular chicken sandwich was the Vampires Hate Her ($16), a nod to the chumboxes down the page on many of your favorite online publications. The VHH has enough garlic—in the form of garlic confit mayo and garlic oil into which the chicken is dipped—to stun a small animal. Made with a grilled or fried chicken thigh and topped with cheese, barbecue sauce, and a nominal amount of shredded lettuce, it’s smoky, sweet, tangy, sloppy and verging on the ridiculous.

Everything verges on the ridiculous at Jojo. The brick-and-mortar location opened in the Pearl in September, and since then, it’s been pure maximalist dining. Servings are optimized for NFL offensive linemen. Many of the sandwiches require a patented Guy Fieri Hunch to get a full bite. The flavor profile is generously described as “onion forward” on a lot of the dishes. It’s either the world’s worst or best first date restaurant.

It’s also Portland’s most extremely online dining experience. Owner Justin Hintze is an unhinged shitposter on Instagram, which I intend as a compliment. It’s one thing to have an off-menu “chicken à la McRib” sandwich designed by local food luminary Bill Oakley. To claim Jojo’s version felled the president on his most recent visit to Portland? That’s some quality online content, folks.

That onlineness translates into an experience that’s optimized for the way the youths eat today (no cap, fr fr). The food is highly photogenic. A restaurant-only fried chicken melt ($16), on shokupan bread with a double shot of cheddar, coleslaw and ranch, is presented in the traditional Jojo style, sliced in two and facing up, toward the camera. Wood accents and indoor plants, draped above the bar and throughout the dining room, imbue the space with the same vibe as your favorite apothecary-slash-crystal emporium. And the customizable menu is the subject of rapturous posts on TikTok. Most of the items are available as vegetarian or vegan versions, made with Ota tofu or Beyond meat. Just flip over the menu to access Jojo’s “vegan edition” and see for yourself.

A special nod should be given to the friendly bar staff, eager to debate the finer points of ranch on pizza. They’ve created a pair of boozy milkshakes, which work as drinks, not only as desserts with a strange medicinal aftertaste. The Choco Cocoa A-Go-Go ($10) is a standout, made with two kinds of rum and cereal milk. While one of the specialty cocktails is made with Hpnotiq, the rest are relatively staid in comparison, aside from the paper umbrellas they sport as garnishes.

The fried chicken sandwiches are just as good as the ones at the Jojo food truck, minus the parking lot ambience. Smash burgers feature plenty of char without drying out entirely. The jojos, normally one of Oregon’s least transcendent gas station foods, are in an elite tier here, staying crispy even when loaded with Tillamook cheddar and a honking pile of caramelized onions. Brussels sprouts pull double duty as an umami-packed side, and as the main event in the Brussels sprout melt ($13).

That customizability—down to the suite of dipping sauces for the titular jojos and tweaked soft drinks inspired by the “dirty” sodas of Utah—makes for a welcoming experience to a wider swath of clientele than the truck. It’s an intelligent business strategy, focused on the kind of hospitality that’s missing from much of the Portland dining scene these days. What tells vegans they’re welcome at Jojo more than a good fried tofu sandwich treated with the same level of love and care as their iconic chicken sandwich? For the next generation of Portland diners, who may not be entirely used to seeing their desires and passions reflected in a restaurant or even an entree, it’s a welcome addition to our city’s collection of exciting places to eat.

Jojo’s success shouldn’t come as a surprise, though. As Field of Dreams taught us, if you build it, they will gum.

EAT: Jojo, 902 NW 13th Ave., 971-331-4284, jojopdx.com. 11 am-10 pm daily.