In 2015, Tryzen Patricio moved from Hawaii to Portland to attend Concordia University, where he also cooked the food he missed from home right in his dorm room, selling it to friends and other island transplants via word of mouth and Facebook. Among his memories from those days is going to the Bunk location on Northeast Alberta for sandwiches in between classes and telling one of his professors he'd eventually have a restaurant in the neighborhood.
Life, as they say, comes at you fast.
In August 2019, Patricio and his fiancée, Candace Lacuesta, moved his dorm room cooking to a food cart, GrindWitTryz—"grind" being Hawaiian pidgin for "eat." Six months later, Concordia announced it was closing. And on Nov. 7, GrindWitTryz became a brick-and-mortar, moving to the space that used to be Bunk Sandwiches.
Formerly located at the Park the Carts pod on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, GrindWitTryz was a near-instant sensation, its crowds and wait times harking back to the early days of Salt & Straw or Apizza Scholls, and even more so after COVID-19. "I've never seen a line for food as consistently long as the one at GrindWitTryz," The Oregonian's Michael Russell wrote in naming it one of his Carts of the Year in August.
Most of those people were lining up for tastes of home, with Grind's Hawaiian flavors also drawing on Japanese, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese and, particularly, Filipino influences—Patricio's parents, Rini and Melonie, are both originally from the Philippines. The massive, meat-plus-two-carb plate lunches included ono chicken, spicy ahi poke and kalua pig, as well as specials like chicken long rice, loco moco and "Hawaiian Nachos," packaged in the most full-to-bursting clamshell containers this side of Kee's Loaded Kitchen.
Patricio laughs when asked how many people a single order usually feeds. "Probably two to three, depending on how hungry they are," he says. "I tried eating a plate lunch [today] and I couldn't eat half."
While attending Concordia, Patricio also worked at Alberta neighborhood restaurants Rice Junkies and Tonalli's, now Angel's. "The vibe and the community was so accepting," he says. In that Oregonian story, he mentioned his desire to eventually open in the district, and with so many restaurants closing due to the pandemic, it didn't take long for landlords and property managers to reach out with some deals, making a cart to brick-and-mortar gamble feel less risky.
The new space also means a lot more daily menu items, with many of the former specials taking up permanent residence. A crew that was once Patricio, Lacuesta and one friend has also expanded, now including his mother and sister, who both relocated from Hawaii to help start the business.
"The whole place makes people feel like this is your second home. Our mission is to spread aloha through our ono food," Patricio says, verbalizing what is also the restaurant's slogan, ono meaning "delicious."
Down the line, the aloha will also include a full liquor license and live Hawaiian music on the back patio. But for now, Grind is a takeout only, with online orders now preferred—though people still walk up, and when the kitchen gets especially slammed, the Square site sometimes pauses.
Other offerings include surf and turf, combo plates and "krack chicken." Patricio recommends the meat jun ($13), a breaded and marinated beef dish of Korean-Hawaiian origin, served with a soy-vinegar dipping sauce, while Lacuesta's favorite is the ahi katsu ($12), the tuna coated in panko and deep-fried to medium rare with Sriracha aioli and katsu sauce.
But the most popular dish by far is ono chicken, which comes by itself ($13) or on a combo plate with either the kalua pig or spicy poke nachos ($16). Here's what you'll get.
The 12 pieces of crispy, sweet-glazed fried chicken thighs—more than a pound of meat—are piled onto a double-portion bed of rice. That's in addition to the neat scoops of rice and macaroni salad on the side.
THE SECRET INGREDIENTS
The breading for the chicken is seasoned all-purpose flour, but that's all you're gonna get out of Patricio when it comes to his father's ono chicken recipe. "Ooh, I can't," he laughs when asked about specific spices. "My dad would probably kill me." The chicken is then tossed in a sugary, almost-caramelized garlic-soy sauce.
The rice is topped with furikake, which Patricio brings over from a favorite business in Hawaii, while the macaroni salad is his mother's recipe, which means she's also the one making it—25 to 30 gallons every day, and sometimes more on weekends. As with the chicken, seasonings are secret, but slices of carrot and scallion are visible, and its yellow color comes from the addition of hardboiled egg.
EAT: GrindWitTryz, 2017 NE Alberta St., 971-865-5160, grindwittryz.square.site. Instagram: @grindwittryz. Noon-8 pm Tuesday-Saturday.