Fish Sauce

A neighborhood Vietnamese spot brings a wallet-friendly happy hour and expertly crafted cocktails to Northwest Portland.

By Benjamin Tepler March 13, 2013

Mason jar lighting accents the room.

In a gray area of Northwest Portland, too far south to be Slabtown and sandwiched between Nob Hill and the Pearl District sits Fish Sauce, a new Vietnamese eatery and cocktail den. While the fusion of Southeast Asian flavors and sophisticated mixology is nothing new to Portland (Luc Lac, Barwares, and Biwa, to name a few) finding the funky, namesake condiment in this part of town is a rarity. Fish Sauce’s most attractive angles are its impressive, thoughtful cocktail list and its role as an under-the-radar neighborhood bargain, offering affordable happy hour bites.

Owner Ben Bui opened Fish Sauce in August, putting his mother’s traditional Vietnamese formulas to the test on the corner of NW 17th and Flanders. Dishes tumble from the trusted family vault into the 45-seat dining room and onto a long, roughly hewn wooden table lit with constellations of glittering Mason jar lights hanging from the ceiling. The menu reads like a "best of" list of Vietnamese bites ranging from vermicelli-stuffed rice paper rolls to baguette-heavy banh mi sandwiches and a signature pho.

Beef pho with filet mignon and meatballs

You can find better versions of these Southeast Asian staples elsewhere around town. The fish sauce wings lack a potent, fermented punch, the Hainese chicken is dry and the sauce too sweet (the Thai variety at Nong’s Khao Man Gai has ruined us forever), and the pho has more personality down 82nd street. But happy hour is dirt-cheap. In-the-know locals tuck into Bo Bia, crispy fried rolls of jicama, basil, egg, and Chinese sausage dipped in peanut sauce for $3 a pop, half banh mi sandwiches with grilled lemongrass pork weighing in at $5, and a sizable, $7 bowl of pho brimming with noodles, curled slices of filet mignon, and puffy medallions of meatball. The real gem on this menu is a bare-bones plate of grilled Korean short ribs, carnal and sweet with a sticky ginger-soy glaze.

Cocktail inspiration comes from notable Portland bar consultant, Tommy Klus, (formerly of Kask and Bluehour) whose curated list of spirits outshines Fish Sauce’s still-evolving menu. Klus’s recipes home in on regionally appropriate flavors, infusing tamarind into the Renegade (Teachers Whiskey, tamarind, ginger syrup), and garnishing Two Birds (Sobieski vodka, orange liqueur, lemon) with a very Vietnamese pickled kumquat. The menu reaches beyond Asian influence, harnessing smoky mezcal in the killer Wicked Games, sporting pear brandy, pineapple, and honey while venturing into fruiter territory with the Elephant Parade (Pueblo Viejo tequila, Lustau East India sherry, strawberry vinegar). Cocktails are the main event here, and worthy of the trip into Northwest's no man’s land on their own.

Fish Sauce
407 NW 17th Ave
(503) 227-8000
Lunch: Mon-Fri, 11am-2:30pm 
Dinner: Mon-Sat, 4:30-10pm
Happy Hour: Mon-Sat, 4:30-6pm, 9-10pm

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