The Zipper's Tiny Restaurant Row Is Calling with Falafel and Whiskey

Three reasons to visit Portland’s newest microrestaurant cluster, where communal dining lives large.

By Benjamin Tepler November 23, 2015 Published in the December 2015 issue of Portland Monthly

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1 Fresh-made falafel cart Chickpeadx is reborn inside the Zipper. Israel native Yair Maidan expands beyond the falafel sandwich with salads, bowls, and combo platters that mix and match wickedly spicy fried cauliflower drizzled with basil-mint-tahini sauce alongside a warm freekeh salad with braised leeks, puréed black futsu squash, and a glug of garlic-cilantro zhug. Inspired dips, from super-fresh, creamy hummus to lemony, whipped labneh yogurt, boost the main attraction: fluffy, fresh-ground Washington chickpeas fried to achieve a thick lusciously textured shell. It’s the best falafel in the city right now.

2 The Zipper’s keystone is whiskey-themed bar Paydirt. Ezra Caraeff, owner of North Portland’s the Old Gold, wanted to build a bar that didn’t take itself too seriously—despite its heavyweight book of 100-plus whiskeys. The long, dark den seats roughly 40 inside, with plush, black booths and a semisecret, 1930s phone booth where you can expediently order Champagne, Prosecco, or a bucket of Miller High Life. Cocktails keep it simple, with a standard manhattan, a rotating bartender’s-choice old-fashioned, and a few house quaffs, like the refreshing Catbird Seat—a mix of vodka, raspberry and apple ciders, lime, and rhubarb bitters.

3 You could say the Zipper serves as a blueprint for the next-gen microrestaurant complex. In 2012, developer Kevin Cavenaugh built “The Ocean” a few blocks away on NE Glisan Street—an economical space holding some of the city’s best cheap eats, like Uno Mas and the Sudra. With the Zipper, Cavenaugh created an elongated art installation of a structure in the image of an actual zipper. And this time, the four resident eateries merge as a collective restaurant inside the 66-seat common area: drinks can be carried anywhere in the building, and food from any restaurant can be ordered to the bar. Three garage doors roll up to reveal a 70-seat open-air patio, complete with fire pits to keep the whiskey-sipping, falafel-devouring hordes toasty all winter.

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