Indonesian Restaurant Pasar’s Bite-Size Plates Fill More Than Diners’ Stomachs

Feny Lim’s second Portland restaurant focuses on authentic Indonesian snacks and comfort food, not watered-down fusion dishes.

Pasar Pasar founder Feny Lim preps authentic Indonesian courses in a down-home setting. (Nathaniel Perales)

Feny Lim, or just Feny to those who know her, has the goods for those craving traditional flavors of Indonesia. Her two-shop empire began five years ago with the restaurant Wajan. In 2023, she opened Pasar, choosing the word that refers to an Indonesian market. As at Wajan, there are no Euro-Indo mashups or watered-down dishes dedicated to the Instagram set. For this, we should all be grateful.

While Wajan’s menu emphasizes multiple components on a single plate, Pasar is the place to visit for individual tastes. Pasar serves what are considered snack items, or jajanan, in their native environs in and around Jakarta. This is where Feny learned her craft from her mother. Pasar’s other strength is a slate of kue, or Indonesian desserts. Like many sweets from around Asia, these show restraint with sugar compared to their Western counterparts.

A great way to start your Pasar journey is with the fried, stuffed savory pastry called murtabak daging ($5). The shattery crunch of the filo-like dough together with the aromatic, spiced ground beef and egg filling is terrific in its own right and orients the palate for the courses to come.

Another light starter is teri kacang ($5), a little bowl of sweet and spicy peanuts and dried anchovies that pairs well with your favorite cold beverage. For more meat-and-potatoes types, get them headed down the brave new path with an order of flank steak skewers and mildish curry gravy, also known as sate padang ($14.50).

A couple of favorites from the “Makanan” section of the menu—in context, referring to somewhat heavier dishes—include the terrific udang telor asin ($19.50), 10 medium-sized, lightly battered and deep-fried shrimp doused with a distinctive creamy-savory salted duck egg yolk sauce that I would be tempted to order by the glass if I could. Fiery chopped bird’s eye chile and curry leaf complete an exceptional ensemble of flavors and textures.

Next down on the favorites list, but not far, is babi goreng ($17). Think of it as sweet and spicy Indonesian pork belly. Like so many other items at Pasar, the hidden complexity of the dish is what elevates it. The pork is fried to give it a crust, and the sauce is embellished with one of Feny’s many sambals. This one is called sambal matah, which adds a funky dimension from its reliance on fermented chiles.

Speaking of Feny’s sambals, do not miss the chance to sample one or more of these chile-based condiments with your meal. They are an Indonesian food staple, priced at a budget-friendly $2.50 each. Think of sambal as ketchup that doesn’t suck, and which can blow your head off if you are not careful.

If you survive the sambals—their intensity is fleeting—the kue are a must. There are four menu standards and a changeable selection that rotates. Most are small, two- or three-bite affairs, but still a bargain at $3.50 each. The power move is to order all of them. But if you have to choose and you love pandan, as anyone who has experienced its floral vanilla-ish flavor and green hue surely does, go for the putu ayu, a chewy, steamed pandan cake topped with grated coconut. An even more popular dessert, similar to a sweet stuffed roti canai, is Pasar’s dark chocolate- and banana-filled crepe called piscok ($5). This one is large enough for two.

The piscok is vegan, and much of the menu will likewise please diners with dietary restrictions. Most dishes, sweet and savory, are gluten-free, and several are or can be modified to be vegan or vegetarian. Even better, all of this is clearly denoted on the bright purple menus.

Pasar somehow hides in plain sight along the north side of the block of Northeast Alberta Street nearest 30th Avenue that is solid with restaurants. It is directly west of Urdaneta and just east of BAES Fried Chicken. Inside Pasar, look for beautiful wood carvings and batik prints scattered about. Lighting is subdued throughout the L-shaped dining room, seating is comfortable, and conversation is easy. Pasar is a damn good date-night spot or a place to share a feast with friends. It is also open for weekend lunch.

Feny is frequently immersed in her kitchen duties, but her partner, Ross Grimes, may be wandering the floor and is always happy to chat. But for details on the food, you will have to find Feny. As Grimes told me last time I was in, “I have no idea what she does in that kitchen.”

We should all be glad she does it.

GO: Pasar, 3023 NE Alberta St., 503-407-8232, 5–9 pm Thursday–Friday, Noon–3 pm and 5–9 pm Saturday–Sunday (expanded summer hours pending).

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