You never know what you'll find behind a nondescript door in the rear of a parking lot. In the case of Han Oak, it's the best modern Korean food in Portland, replete with a majestic courtyard.
With experience in big-time New York City restaurants, chef-owner Peter Cho is originally from Beaverton, and he and his family literally live at Han Oak. This unique arrangement results in a hip, all-ages-welcome setting, with communal seating and a soundtrack ranging from Hall & Oates to Chance the Rapper.
Han Oak offers a long list of á la carte noodle bowls, dumplings and ssams. But instead of serving straight-up, traditional Korean food, Cho tends to follow his whims, resulting in idiosyncratic dishes inspired by cuisine from the east Asian peninsula.
Every meal should begin with several banchan or tiny plates, like feisty kimchi ($6) that Cho's own mom makes. Additional established highlights are the Korean fried chicken (three pieces for $12), soondae blood cake ($13) and the pork and chive dumplings (four for $12). A recent hand-pulled noodle preparation shows Cho at his best. The dish uses three items he used to order for lunch separately and then combine at Xi'an Famous Foods in New York. At Han Oak, fresh, smooth and chewy biang biang mian noodles ($16) reveal excellent technique. Cooling basil and mint complement rippling chili oil spice. And then there's that juicy twice-cooked pork belly. After nearly three years, Han Oak continues to be an incredibly intimate experience—an experimental restaurant that has found its groove.
Pro tip: In addition to à la carte dining, Han Oak offers a prix fixe menu with 11 items at $55 per person.