As reports of the royal wedding flooded in, one thing stood out—the queen of England was going to eat "bowl food."
The twitterati couldn't believe it. California girl and now British royal Meghan Markle was to get the queen in on this hot new food trend. But let's be real: By the time anything gets to the Windsors, it's bound to be at least a couple hundred years old.
Take bibimbap. The Journal of Ethnic Foods dates this savory Korean dish to as early as the 10th century. Back in merry old England, we're still talking Viking raids. So yeah, bowl food, the hot new trend of at least 1,000 years ago.
Portland's new Korean spot, Happy Bibimbap House 2, takes a traditional approach to its Korean specialties. A Salem favorite, the new Portland spot right next to the Hollywood Transit Center doesn't have any flashy pan-Asian fusion nonsense—just traditional Korean and Seoul-Chinatown-style grub with a little sushi on the side.
Happy Bibimbap House 2 is traditional in ways that go beyond food. From the outside, the restaurant doesn't look like much. It's at the corner of a giant building that houses a three-story gym, with windows covered in text advertising specials and promoting owner Hillary Park's charity work feeding the homeless in Salem. (Park says she hasn't started the initiative in Portland yet, but is looking into it.)
Inside, it looks like a Korean pride diorama, in the most awesome way possible. Windows are covered with giant images of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics, including both athletes and also the moment from the opening ceremony when Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un impersonators mugged for the camera while an out-of-focus Mike Pence worked really hard to ignore Kim's sister Kim Yo-jong. There's also a map of Korean War history in the back.
I started off with dol sot bibimbap ($9.95), a combination of rice, veggies, meat and a raw egg in a hot stone bowl. Once mixed together and spruced up with a little sauce, it was perfect. The vegetable man doo dumplings ($9.95) had a delicious, warm inside, though they were a tad chewy.
The duk bok ki starter ($9.95) was a better choice. Duk bok ki is a pan-seared rice cake that resembles a large gnocchi covered with a spicy sauce. This is where Happy Bibimbap House 2 starts to stand out from other Korean places. Rather than focus on making the dishes tongue-searingly spicy, most have a sweetness that's more characteristic of cuisine from outside the South Korean capital. Both the dae ji bul go gi ($15.95), a spicy marinated pork, and the jajang meyun ($9.95)—noodles with black bean sauce and pork—were far more savory than hot. Of the two, the dae ji bul go gi was the table favorite, as the jajang meyun went too light on the pork.
The only dishes that had any real fire were the pickled cucumbers that come as part of the traditional banchan side dishes with any legit Korean meal, and the beef yook ge jang spicy soup ($9.95). This is not a bad thing, though—it was nice to experience something a little unexpected, and it helps Happy Bibimbap House 2 stand out while not bucking tradition.
All in all, it's an authentic, proud and somewhat bizarre visual experience that's quickly eclipsed by a solid, inexpensive meal that will make you feel, well, maybe not quite like the queen of England, but perhaps a pre-Duchess Markle.
GO: Happy Bibimbap House 2, 4204 NE Halsey St., 971-271-7065, happybibimbaphouse.com. 11 am-9 pm Monday-Friday, 4-9 pm Sunday.