I'm rarely sentimental about closed restaurants. It's the cycle of life: Today's opening is tomorrow's closing, which leads to the next new opening. As another food critic in town once told me, half-jokingly, "After a while, it's all real estate."
But there are a few exceptions—singular things that did what they did better than anyone else, and which leave a hole in their wake. Wafu is on that very short list. Trent Pierce's izakaya-style gastropub brought pubby, clubby, loosely Japanese drinking food to its white-bread Richmond neighborhood until it closed too soon in 2013. It was open until midnight and combined great whiskey drinks with big bowls of starchy ramen, along with drinking snacks like tempura shrimp with wasabi mayonnaise. Pierce never quite recaptured the magic with the other two concepts he plopped into the Division Street space that's now Rockin' Crab & Boiling Pot.
With apologies to Whiskey Soda Lounge, ever since Wafu closed, one of the city's best food neighborhoods has really missed a laid-back spot for locals that's both open late and serves big bowls of noodle soup and spicy drinking snacks.
Which is what makes Short Round such a welcome addition to Richmond.
The new Vietnamese street-food pub from mother-son duo Ben Bui and Lauren Huynh, owners of Fish Sauce in the Pearl, is everything you (read: I) want in a neighborhood pub, bringing oil, heat and tunes back to a 'hood that's sleepier than it should be.
Short Round, which takes over the long and narrow shotgun space that formerly housed Polish pub Bar Dobre, is super casual, with plywood walls and huge TVs showing sports. You mark up the sushi-style menu to order items like fish jerky, pan-fried sticky rice cakes and lemongrass-heavy chicken banh mi.
Short Round's biggest strength is its killer drink menu, which includes a long list of creative cocktails like a matcha and Japanese whiskey drink called the Matchmaker ($13) and a rye, applejack, jackfruit, lemon and grenadine called the Jack Rose ($9). The Jade Trade ($10) with gin, pennywort, lime and lychee liqueur comes highly recommended, as does their exotic version of a L.I.T. ($10), which uses the usual gin, combier and cola but with cachaca and artichoke tea.
Over the summer, Short Round had two boozy slushies, including a fun and not-too-sweet Blue Hawaiian ($9), though the machines have sadly been mothballed for the winter.
Short Round feels a little more like a bar than a restaurant, and so it makes sense that the food was a bit inconsistent over our three visits.
The menu is long and diverse, including everything from fried sugarcane shrimp to geoduck to pho to lemongrass ribs. In general, you want the smallest snacks or the biggest entrees.
The roasted peanuts with chiles and lime ($3) are a must even if you're not eating a full meal.
Two other snacks that stood out are the bo la lot, salty beef wrapped in earthy-peppery betel leaf ($5) and banh tet ($4), a pan-fried sticky rice cake with pork belly and mung bean. Both are primal pleasures, rich with salt and fat that are set off with a little heat.
The beef pho ($12), bo tai chanh ($11) and cari ($12) are my other go-tos.
The bo tai chanh, is a rare filet mignon is dosed in a sauce of lime, sweet onions and peanut. It's a very simple dish with big flavor serves in a satisfying portion. The cari is a rich and hearty yellow curry with fingerling potatoes, nutty Japanese kabocha squash and yam. You get to choose between chicken, tofu or shrimp as the added protein. The chicken makes the dish into a very substantial winter soup.
Not everything is as well dialed. The ribs suffer from having the sauces added on top of a finished rib, meaning the flavors don't meld. The banh mi can't hang with rival sandos with just-baked bread, and the tender, spicy barbecue beef ($14) is served with odd and undercooked fried potatoes.
But as gripes go, those are fairly minor. Short Round succeeds by walking a loud, dark line between bar and restaurant. This is boozy food, with cocktails that call out for spicy snacks. If you find yourself feeling too picky, you're doing it wrong.
Short Round, 3962 SE Hawthorne Blvd., 503-384-2564, shortroundpdx.com. 11 am-midnight daily. Happy hour 3-6 pm, 9 pm-midnight.