Southeast 33rd Avenue and Hawthorne Boulevard, 502-4428, umaipdx.com. Lunch Wednesday-Sunday.
To get to Umai, you need a little faith. Turn down a street that doesn't look like a street, and behind the Hazel Room and Red Velvet Parlour, facing a wall with quotes about murder, you'll find a tiny food-cart pod tucked away like an oyster's pearl in a slab of dead-end pavement. Nothing could survive here unless it was either wonderful or desperate.
Well, it's wonderful, much like the Bundy's boiled-bagel cart and Holy Mole, our cart of the year. Never mind that Umai has some of the best fried chicken in town, at a criminally low cost. Chicken karaage—the Japanese take on an American mid-South staple—is breaded just to the point of crispness and coated in soy, garlic and ginger, lightly sauced in chopsticks-ready chunks, and almost perfect for a mere $4. The kale and kelp salad ($3.50) is a lightly vinegared love affair with all things green by land or sea, with bright and deep flavors.
But you haven't gone down this rabbit hole for kelp. Umai serves terrific ramen ($10), with a shoyu broth that wallops you with soy, and a shio (salt) broth that mixes with the natural saltiness of the soup's tender, pulled pork shoulder to create a sort of light-headed ecstasy amid probable brain dehydration. But the real depth of flavor is provided by pickled shiitakes, a just-so soft-boiled egg and a mess of scallions and steamed greens, not to mention al dente, cart-made noodles with taste and texture that announce themselves rather than recede into glutenous limpness. The broths and meat are not tenderly smoky like Shigezo's or Mirakutei's, nor do they reach the muscle-relaxant umami high of Yuzu's tonkotsu. But by the end of each bowl of shio, the only thing you'll want is more of the same. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
5365 SE Sandy Blvd., 284-1773, dusgrill.com. Lunch and dinner Monday-Friday.
[NORTHEAST SMOKEHOUSE] Du's is the acknowledged teriyaki king of Northeast Sandy Boulevard, taking a genre—bento—that so often is home to a sort of studied blandness, and making it beautiful. The chicken, pork and beef come out charred, flavorful, and—perhaps just as important—ridiculously plentiful, a blessedly broad ground for the sauce that makes Du's a Roseway standby, that housemade garlic ginger. This will also come on the salad. For a mere $9 to $10, a two-meat combo will be not only your dinner, but lunch the next day. Your co-workers will walk by your desk, sniff the air vacantly, then ask, "Where'd you get that?" in hopes they can get it just around the corner. They probably can't, but they should drive for it. MATTHEW KORFHAGE.
4233 N Mississippi Ave., 753-0254, shigezo-pdx.com/minizo-food-cart. Lunch Tuesday-Sunday.
[I'LL SHOYU] Newly planted in the Mississippi Marketplace cart pod, Minizo—the cart offshoot of the Shigezo izakaya restaurants—serves up quick and easy ramen two ways: shoyu or shio ($7), with noodles, veggies, egg (both hard- and soft-boiled) and sweetly seasoned chashu pork swimming in a rich broth made daily. Sure, you can get the ramen dry as abu or shio abu ramen, or go with a spicy chicken katsu curry ($7), but really, the broth here is a thing of pure comfort. It's so good, in fact, that even the tempting miso ramen on special—combining Japan's two most popular soups into an ultrarich soup with enough salt to give Bambi a stroke—pales in comparison. AP KRYZA.
Boke Bowl West
1200 NW 18th Ave., 719-5698, bokebowl.com/dimsum. 11 am-3 pm Saturday-Sunday.
[GET SUM] Boke Bowl, known for its tasty, nontraditional takes on ramen—with one of the best vegan dishes in town with their eggplant miso—has branched out into dim sum at its westside location. Pea tips with garlic and black bean sauce are a simple and essential part of the mix, with vegetarian or vegan variations such as a steamed lotus leaf stuffed with the customary sticky rice but with added mushrooms, squash and black bean sauce, or steamed bao filled with curried squash rather than pork. But Boke gives less weight to authenticity than it does to quality and what tastes good, so the "dim sum" menu ($5.25 for large items, $3.75 for small) also includes excursions. I'm a sucker for the spicy chicken wings, though somewhat less so for the chicken and waffles. MICHAEL C. ZUSMAN.
1025 SW Stark St., 894-8260; 2032 NE Alberta St., 946-1619; boxerramen.com. Lunch and dinner daily.
[PUNCH OUT] Of all Micah Camden's casual middle-tier joints—Little Big Burger, Blue Star Donuts, Son of a Biscuit—we most love this 31-stool ramen-ya in the Union Way boutique alley, as well as its sister restaurant on Alberta. Start with the okonomiyaki tater tots ($6), served fajita-style in a sizzling skillet with creamy Kewpie mayonnaise sauce and bonito flakes, then slurp the same noodles they use at New York's Momofuku, in coconut-intense white curry with strips of fibrous inari sweet tofu. The "really spicy miso" is as spicy as advertised—important because Boxer doesn't offer sauces to spike its bowls—with pasty miso broth and a gooey sous-vide egg, a few snips of green onion and sliced pork belly. MARTIN CIZMAR.
4057 N Interstate Ave., 719-6152, mihopdx.com. Dinner nightly.
[BUDGET BIWA] At Miho Izakaya, it's the little things that count. That's true of Japanese drinking food in general, but at this converted yellow house, which sits in the gaudy neon glare of the Alibi tiki bar, the smaller the plate, the better. Items are grouped by price, but the sweet spot is the lower to middle end of the spectrum, which is where you'll find items such as the sesame-speckled pork meatballs ($6), the firecracker mussels (which are only mildly spicy, despite the name, $6) and the seared salmon ($8). Shoot, the $6 miso-glazed asparagus might've been the highlight of a recent visit. Putting together a complete meal can seem daunting, but considering that the priciest plate here is $12, you can't go wrong with just closing your eyes and pointing. MATTHEW SINGER.