There very well may be a Japanese-led scheme for total ramen domination in Portland. Two separate Tokyo-born chains, Marukin and Afuri, both opened up shops in the industrial east side last year. A few months later, Marukin opened another location inside Pine Street Market. And, as of earlier this month—literally a block away from Marukin—Afuri is running its own second location at 50 SW 3rd Avenue. We’re 100 percent okay with this kind of foreign manipulation.
We popped into Afuri’s just-opened downtown location for a quick bite. The new space is smaller than the gleaming glass-and-metal original, with an expedient iPad ordering system like you might find at JFK or Japan’s solo-diner, Ichiran. (The system wasn’t ready for prime time during our visit, but it’s coming.) The menu has been slimmed down, too. Big entrees like the miso black cod are missing, and there's no sushi counter. But there’s an expanded dumpling menu and a few new appetizers, including ever-trendy salmon and tuna poke and spicy agedashi mapo tofu with pork crumbles.
The original location’s excellent pork gyoza plate, all juicy pop and lacy edges, has become a go-to order. An early taste of downtown Afuri’s ebi gyoza shows similar promise: super-juicy shrimp, plumped with gingery pork, and rolled like a cigar in a chewy dumpling wrapper. It comes with three dipping sauces and might be one of the best dumplings in the city right now. The teba gyoza, a deboned chicken wing stuffed with the aforementioned pork and deep-fried, has great crunchy texture, but needs a little oomph in the seasoning department. The yuzu ratan ramen, with spicy, rich chicken broth, tender chashu pork, and springy noodles, is still great.
With winter’s icy maw closing, Afuri is shaping up to be one of the hottest lunchtime destinations downtown. Get slurping!