When a menu says "homemade," it's usually a euphemism. At Han Oak, it's literal. The side-yard Korean spot behind the Ocean on Northeast Glisan Street is half open-kitchen restaurant, half modernist loft where chef Peter Cho and his family actually live. And so Han Oak's fridge is Cho's fridge. The toddler cheerily attacking the bubble machine on the patio is Cho's son, Elliott, whose scattered toys turn the yard into a romper room. And pay no attention to the room beyond the curtain: That's Cho's bedroom.
In its early months, the now-one-year-old Han Oak was a much more tightly controlled experiment. And Oregon-raised, New York-trained Cho still turns out a $55 cheffy, ingredient-forward prix-fixe meal that might include ume-shiso asparagus banchan, a very grown-up buckwheat soba, and ssam lettuce wraps with koji-marinated pork belly.
But the mood is looser since Cho merged his justly famous noodle and dumpling menu into the everyday experience. These days, the joint might as well be a house party—especially on Sunday and Monday, when off-shift chefs and seemingly the whole rest of the Portland service industry show up to mow down an à la carte menu of wild flavors and rich homestyle comforts. Most of the ever-changing menagerie of plates hovers around $10, and always seems to include a plate of thick-breaded and juicy Korean fried chicken so laden with fat and spice our server said she sometimes just noshes on the dredged skins.
Elsewhere are chive-pork dumplings so delicate I almost cried the first time I tasted one, a beautifully salty and crispy blood sausage drenched in over-easy egg, and a Korean-Chinese jja jang myun hand-pulled noodle dish made with fermented black beans. On the right night, when those thickly al dente noodles come with butternut squash that melts into the bean sauce, that jja jang murders every other version in town.
Pro Tip: Bent Brick alum Michelle Ruocco is not-so-secretly one of the best cocktail-smiths in Portland, so order the shit out of her $11 booze menu. Each drink is an amusement-park ride, whether a tequila-spiked Kimchilada served with Japanese Orion lager, or a tequila-soju-midori Paper Crane with bar foam made from Korean ice pops.