[SECRET OF THE UZ] A restaurant that's closed Friday night and all day Saturday? As far as we know, this halal spot in far-flung East Portland stands alone. Uzbekistan Restaurant—billed as a "Mediterranean restaurant," although Uzbekistan is double-landlocked and no closer to the Mediterranean than Oslo—brings a mix of Russian and Central Asian fare to a scruffy space that formerly housed a Chinese drive-thru. It's not a down-market Kachka so much as a mongrel cuisine built from the once-Soviet pantheon. That carrot salad dressed with housemade vinegar arrived with Koreans exiled by Stalin, while the Khan's hordes brought manti ($9.95), steamed dough pockets filled with stewy chopped onions and small, richly fatty chunks of beef and lamb. Here, borscht is served warm—a beautiful pinkish-red beet soup with slivers of al dente cabbage, fatty hunks of meat, vegetables and a dusting of dill. Kebabs are often overdone, but you're likely to score a hit with the samsa ($2.50), a sesame-topped hand pie made from a heartier dough stuffed with onions, caraway seeds and little cubes of lamb and beef. Ours came out perfect: crusty on the bottom, fluffy on top, soft and steamy inside. Plov, the Uzbeki national dish, is supposed to be wonderful, but is only available a few days each week—not including Saturday, obviously. MARTIN CIZMAR.
Desserts are limited and unremarkable—the Uzbeks mostly eat fruit and nuts—but you might want to end the meal with a glass of Russian kvass, a unique cider made from bread that looks like an IPA and is lightly carbonated with a mild sweetness.