Han Oak Plays with Korean Cuisine, 180 Fries Up Spanish Xurros, and More to Check Out in April

From Peter Cho’s inventive prix fixe dinners to Jose Chesa’s pastry and paella, Portland Monthly food critic Karen Brooks dishes on the obsessions of the month.

By Karen Brooks March 25, 2016 Published in the April 2016 issue of Portland Monthly

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Chef Peter Cho and his mom, Myung Ja  BOTTOM LEFT: Colin Yoshimoto


Image: Karen Brooks


Buzzy Korean cuisine seems ripe for the “Portland treatment”—and it gets the works at Peter Cho’s Han Oak. An unmarked door at the end of a tiny parking lot in Northeast leads to a hidden restaurant/event space that doubles as Cho’s home, charming front yard and flaming retro stovepipe hearth included. You could call the aesthetic “Icelandic loft”: spare lines, blond wood, spring buds in tiny vases. The mode is tasting menu only ($55–65), two nights a week (Saturdays and Sundays). Courses unfold with refined modesty and quiet beauty in dishes—banchan to Korean barbecue—where tradition is revered but twists are always in play. You eat whatever comes your way with delight and vigor, as Patsy Cline croons from the sound system. Some high points: market-inspired kimchi, sprouted mung bean waffles, and roll-your-own bundles of rice noodle pancakes, salt-cured pork belly, and radishes. Cho, known locally for the cult pop-up Stray Dogs, earned his stripes as the culinary right hand to New York food star April Bloomfield (she of the Spotted Pig, approximate origin point of the gastropub). It shows. Psst: seats go fast. 511 NE 24th Ave, hanoakpdx.com


Doughnut-loving Portland has a slinky new crush: Spanish xurros, golden pipes of fried pastry. At 180, from the crew behind Ataula, the treats are pampered like starlets: fried to order, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar, and sided by dipping sauces (tart lemon curd to creamy orange) or superb dunking chocolate made from bars of top-notch local Cocanú. Even better: stuffed xurros rellenos plumped with dulce de leche or chocolate pastry cream. Owners Jose Chesa and Cristina Baez’s other new eatery, paella spot Chesa, fires up its charcoal oven next door at dinnertime. 2218 NE Broadway, 180pdx.com

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Guess who else loves Nodoguro, PoMo’s Restaurant of the Year 2015? The Roots’ Questlove, who picked young Japanese foodist Ryan Roadhouse as one of the country’s 10 chefs who think like artists. For his new book, Something to Food About, the Tonight Show drummer had Roadhouse remount Nodoguro’s surreal Twin Peaks dinner in LA for David Lynch himself—fish-in-a-percolator and all. A 20-page Q&A and photo spread puts Roadhouse in the company of some of America’s most lauded chefs, including modernist-cuisine giant Nathan Myhrvold and Eleven Madison Park’s Daniel Humm. We think that’s right where he belongs.

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