Restaurant writing is all about hunger, but damn if I wasn’t thirsty for a new fine(r) dining restaurant.
I realized how much I needed this sort of infusion about midway through my first visit to Brasa Haya, a new Spanish restaurant in a converted home on Northeast Beech Street, formerly the Beech Street Parlor. Sitting inside (vaccinations required) with three friends, I tasted a perfectly stacked bite of pork belly and squid—the classic Spanish pairing of pork and seafood—with an unctuous twist of poached egg and bright salsa verde. It all created a taste combination even my adventurous palate hadn’t had before. Swoon.
As the past year saw the closure of Portland’s Spanish pillars Ataula and Toro Bravo, this new spot from Ian Munzert is set to help shore up the losses. Previously, Munzert headed the kitchen at Commonwealth in San Francisco, but he moved back to his home state of Oregon after the Michelin-starred restaurant closed in 2019.
Just four months on from its opening, Brasa Haya is shaping up to serve as both a neighborhood staple and a splurge-worthy destination, depending on how you play it. The basic tapas and pintxos make for a great post-work stop-by, paired with an ever-evolving wine and vermouth list (a preview sip of a Spanish white wine vermouth had serious pumpkin spice notes in a very good way), or the start of a decadent tour round the menu.
Brasa Haya’s salt cod croquettes were textbook: fried up light and crisp, with generous salty flakes of white fish in the soft innards. The tortilla Española was silky and light; in fact, my only gripe is that it was far too small a portion for a table of four to split effectively, but this is a problem inherent to tapas, not to Brasa Haya. The patatas bravas, on the other hand, were an ample pile of nicely crisped potatoes, coated in spice and served over aioli.
You’ll love to see Munzert’s well-rounded vegetable take too: The coal-roasted cabbage is a must-order, served in two generous wedges, with a garum (fermented fish sauce) butter that gives it both richness and umami.
A grilled round of robiola cheese was wreathed with vinegar-soaked bread, smoked chanterelles, wilted dandelion greens, and piquant Jimmy Nardello peppers that zip around your mouth, hitting all the texture and taste-bud stops on the way.
While there are tons of gluten-free choices, the restaurant is a tough fit for most vegans, with fish sneaking into many of the starter and vegetable dishes and half the menu devoted to seafood and meat. But for us omnivores, there awaits a gorgeous plate of grilled octopus, oh so tender and wrapped like a tendril around a potato mousse so light it’s almost a foam, with grilled escarole, brown butter and crispy bits of fried caper.
I didn’t have $90 to drop on a platter of bone-in, dry aged Carman Ranch rib-eye, but a $30 plate of thin-sliced jamón ibérico served with grilled bread doused in good olive oil and pickles did hit the right level of decadence. It’s wild how that acorn-finished ham just melts on tongue contact.
But truly, it’s the offal dishes that stand out. In one, tripe is fried to a light crispiness, coated in a spicy red harissa and crème fraîche sauce, and sprinkled with herbs and thinly shaved celery. It is, as my boyfriend put it, Buffalo wild guts—the most uncanny take on wings I’ve ever had. The dish is rich and quite unlike the rest of the menu, but I’d definitely take it with a good dry cider.
Fried sweetbreads veer back into more familiar territory, mild and adorned with pickled Fresno peppers, slices of blackberry, and roasted corn to create a very refined nuggie.
Grab a sherry flight—southern Spain is home to the sweet fortified wine, after all—and make sure to order at least two desserts to share. All of them are good, but always add a small slice of torrijas, or Spanish-style French toast. Sided with a scoop of sheep’s milk ice cream and topped with a sherry syrup, this dessert is deceptively simple, but it is also perfect. The custard-soaked brioche takes on a light crust while becoming melted and soft on the inside, sugary without going into one-note cloying.
With friendly and attentive service and some real surprises on the menu, it’s comforting to know that Portland’s Spanish cuisine torch remains afire at Brasa Haya.
EAT: 412 NE Beech St., 503-288-3499, brasahayapdx.com, 5:30-10 pm, Wednesday-Sunday. Indoor seating is not ADA accessible, vaccination required to dine indoors.