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Potato causa layered with cauliflower and toasted corn cancha

Image: Karen Brooks

The brief, wondrous, “Oh no, he didn’t” history of Paiche

December 2015 In Southwest’s residential Lair Hill hood, Peruvian chef Jose Luis de Cossio launches a menu built around coffee, quinoa bowls, and ceviche (a.k.a. lime-lashed raw fish) ... for breakfast. Even by Portland standards, this is crazy.

Spring 2016 Paiche morphs into a lunch spot. That ceviche we snorted at for breakfast? Word spreads quickly: It’s good enough to make you drool. Supplies are limited and so are the hours. It’s a DEFCON 3 situation for local foodies. Lines form quickly.

August 2016 PoMo’s review of Paiche’s increasingly wildly plated food notes that de Cossio ”navigates the outer edges of Portland, Peru, and Pluto.” One thing is sure: “Paiche is never boring.” Before the magazine even hits newsstands, Paiche ditches lunch for dinner service. 

October 2016 Willamette Week names the quirky spot its “Restaurant of the Year.” Prices rise like the Andean peaks in order to source sustainable fish. Expectations mount. Diners grumble. No one looks unhappier than poetic dreamer de Cossio—trapped in a fine dining nightmare.

June 2017 Paiche abruptly ends dinner service. De Cossio declares: “I’m not that guy with the tweezers and $30 ceviche.”

July 2017 The following week, Paiche resurfaces with hemp lattes, out-of-the-box empanadas, and vegetable ceviche ...for breakfast. The mode is now vegan and gluten-free with Peru as its muse. There’s not a fin in the house. Strangely, it might be the most exciting Paiche yet.

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Jose Luis de Cossio; amaranth empanada, pickled apples, and aji amarillo sauce

Image: Karen Brooks 

There’s something admirable about throwing out all the safety nets and awards to live the life you believe in. The latest Paiche, open weekday mornings (and, possibly, eventually into the afternoon), seems the best fit so far for its animating values. De Cossio, a devoted surfer, simply says he no longer wanted to butcher fish. Now he lives to connect with customers, “make their tongues happy,” and keep things healthy and affordable, mostly around $6.

The menu is small, but ideas are big. At 45, de Cossio is rethinking Peru’s famed causa potato terrine, a different idea each day—think Andean purple potatoes, vegetable shreds, and fruity aji Amarillo peppers layered like a Wonderland Jell-O mold. They taste like the best parts of mashed potatoes, slaw, and deviled eggs. More improbable, he’s found art and magic in a.m. sweets free of dairy, gluten, and sugar. A recent tart sported (of all things) an elegant mousse of eggplant, dates, Incan berries, and Ecuadoran chocolate, set over a crust of “awakened” pumpkin seeds. On top: a power shot of apricot purée and pisco. You’d be happy to eat it at some buzzy LA spot for twice the price.

Will Paiche be on to something else as you read this? Who can say? But if Portland is truly a vegan haven, it needs talented renegades in its meat-free kitchens. Vegan or not, I’m all in for a singular vision on a plate—any time of the day.

Paiche, 4237 SW Corbett Ave, 503-403-6186. Check paichepdx.com for current hours and, um, everything else.

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Paiche

$$ Latin American, Vegan 4237 SW Corbett Ave.

In the foodie desert of Southwest’s Lair Hill neighborhood, Lima native Jose Luis de Cossio writes his own mad food story, weaving Peruvian cuisine, rooted i...