Best Restaurants 2011

Best Restaurants 2011: Asian Adventures

By Karen Brooks and Benjamin Tepler October 14, 2011

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Vietnamese soup at HA & VL

Vietnamese Soup Art


To find noodle soup paradise, jump off of SE 82nd Avenue into the hidden Wing Ming Square, walk past—or slow down and browse—the herb shop selling spore oils and deer-tail extracts, and you’re there: HA & VL. These are not the usual Asian soup bowls brimming around this neighborhood. Owners Ha “Christina” Luu and William Voung are artisans, crafting small-batch regional Vietnamese soups with flavorful free-range chickens, meticulously skimmed broths, and noodles fully soaked before taking a dip in the boiling pot to assure an extra bounce of chewy goodness. Every day brings two options, but Thursday delivers the ultimate double bill: snail noodle soup, swooningly aromatic, with fresh-ground ginger sauce for dipping, and shredded chicken noodle soup as you wish your grandmother could make it, with the punctuation marks of sliced pork and dainty hand-cut ribbons of fried egg. The Popsicle-colored café is part of the charm, and if you ask, Luu will whip up the best Vietnamese iced coffee you’ve tasted. But come early: the goods are usually gone by 11:30. 2738 SE 82nd Ave, Suite 102, Wing Ming Square; 503-772-0103 —KB

Burger After Dark


An Asian menu is not the obvious go-to for a top-notch burger. But Biwa is playful that way—an appealing fusion of Japanese izakaya (pub food) and recycled Portland. Its lusty secret arrives after 10 p.m. (11 on weekends), when the streamlined late-night menu goes into effect. Push past the nighttime tipplers and two-top daters and head for the counter, where the thick perfume of simmering garlic intensifies. Here, the hip-hop rhythms of Dr. Dre prime the appetite for the menu’s hot, cold, grilled, and slurpable highlights, and the kitchen’s burger emerges at last—juicy, grass-fed, fresh-ground, and wearing a coil of marinated pork and a slather of kimchi mayo. The “kasu” bun flies in its own orbit, craftily made from fermented sake lees by underground baking pro Adam Kennedy. Skip the Asian-inspired cocktail menu: this beauty is best with a handmade black pepper soda or a sake flight—a menagerie of two-ounce pours and an adventure through prefectures and styles. 215 SE Ninth Ave; —BT 

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Biwa burger with pork belly and kimchi mayo.

The New Koreatown

Spring Restaurant

One of Portland’s premier food adventures begins in the ominous, poorly marked G Mart in Beaverton. Once inside, follow the shelves of shiny, packaged instant ramen to the meat counter in back, then take a sharp left up the stairs. Welcome to Koreatown, OR—little English is spoken, and the menu is intimidatingly lengthy. Here’s the deal: sit near the glass observation windows overlooking the sprawling Asian superstore while munching on banchan, a collection of traditional snacks, from salty kimchi to chile-spiked sausage. Skip the too-average barbecued meats, and concentrate on noodle dishes, especially the spicy, soul-warming jjol myun (rice noodles, vegetables, hard-boiled egg) or bibim naeng myun (cold, glossy buckwheat noodles lacquered with spice and cut tableside with scissors). Potent stews like kim chee chi gae—a bubbling cast-iron pot of fiery red broth, slivered pork, and silken tofu—will suck the chill out right out of a Portland winter. 3975 SW 114th Ave, Beaverton; 503-641-3670 —BT

Old-School Phat Thai

Whiskey Soda Lounge

Long before he opened Pok Pok, Thai food perfectionist Andy Ricker had a reputation among friends for making the best phat Thai around. Yet Ricker worried if he included it on his menu, it would always lure diners from trying his other concoctions steeped in street-food authenticity. Now that he’s got lines out Pok Pok’s door for the likes of boar collar and steak salad hot enough to peel paint, he’s finally giving in at his bar across street, serving six variations of phat Thai after 10 p.m. only that are far from the ketchup-laced affairs conjured for the American palate. That means rice or glass noodles fried in rendered pork fat, never served with chicken (“it’s simply not done in old-school phat Thai joints,” says Ricker), the surprise of preserved radish and dried tofu, and serious, nose-dripping heat. The straight-up version alone is worth a visit, but phat thai buu haw khai, mingled with crab, then bound in a thin omelet, is a revelation. 3131 SE Division St; —KB

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