In January 2013, Portland Monthly broke the news of the Zipper, a second-generation micro-restaurant complex pioneered by developer Kevin Cavenaugh. His first complex, “The Ocean,” on Northeast Glisan holds some of the city’s best cheap eats, like Uno Mas and The Sudra, and was inspiring enough to build a second project just a few blocks away at Northeast Sandy and 28th Ave. While the last member of the Zipper (the bar, Paydirt) was completed just last week, its other restaurant tenants, which include Rua, Slice Pizza Co., Chickpeadx, and Bywater Grocery, have been unfurling since July. We stopped in to get the lay of the land.
Originally a food cart stationed at the bustling southwest Alder hub, this Vietnamese-inspired eatery hits all the familiar notes: pork belly banh mi, pho, green papaya salad, and a standout “Saigon” fried chicken (sweet, spicy, crunchy). As with the cart, nothing here is revolutionary, but it’s a plenty fine accompaniment for whiskey drinking at neighboring Paydirt. Rua is in the process of developing a special bar menu for their compatriots, so stay tuned for further developments.
This fresh-made falafel spot is reason alone to visit the Zipper. Israeli-born Yair Maidan, whose food cart falafel made Portland Monthly’s list of Top 25 Sandwiches in 2014, is back with gusto. Maidan has expanded beyond the falafel sandwich with salads, bowls, and combo platters that let you mix and match sides, like wickedly spicy roasted cauliflower, dusted with “secret spice,” and drizzled with Sriracha, or a warm frika salad with braised leeks, pureed black futsu squash, and a glug of garlic-cilantro zhug. Dips, like a super-fresh, creamy hummus, and lemony, whipped labneh yogurt sing alongside the main attraction: fluffy, fresh-ground Washington chickpeas fried inside an oval shell as thick and textured as a pinecone. It’s the best falafel in the city right now, bar none.
The po’boy specialists at Bywater cook the New Orleans comforts, like fried oyster sandwiches and jambalaya. As of now, they are the Zipper’s weakest link. The po’boy foundation, an over-inflated sesame bun, makes up the majority of the sandwich, holding remoulade-slicked tomatoes and shredded lettuce. The lightly fried shrimp aren’t in their prime, either. The chicken and Andouille sausage jambalaya holds a little heat, but is ultimately a bland approximation of the Creole classic.
Slice Pizza Company
Portland’s pizzaiolos won’t be talking about this slice shop (no relation to Irvington’s Slice Pizzeria) anytime soon, but it’s satisfyingly greasy, with hefty pies, sweet, garlicky tomato sauce, and a thick, doughy crust. It tastes slightly reheated, but with this kind of pizza, we hardly mind. Bonus: they serve alligator sausage as a thick, meaty alternative to pepperoni. Go for it.
The straggler, Paydirt, is a whiskey-themed bar at the Zipper’s heart. Ezra Caraeff, owner of the Old Gold, wanted to build a bar that didn’t take itself so seriously, despite the serious-looking 100+ book of whiskeys. The dark, long den seats 40 inside, with plush, black booths, and a secret, 1930’s phone booth where you can expediently order champagne, Prosecco, or a bucket of Miller High Life. Cocktails keep it simple, with a house Manhattan, a bartender’s choice Old Fashioned, and a few house quaffs, like the Catbird Seat, with vodka, raspberry and apple cider, lime, and rhubarb bitters. Best of all, you can take Paydirt drinks anywhere inside The Zipper, from its 80-seat common area to the 120-seat outdoor patio, which sports two flaming fire pits. It’s early to say, but Paydirt is looking like a true neighborhood lynchpin.
2705 NE Sandy Blvd.