A spread of dishes at Grace Cafe

Portland is home to all kinds of rarely seen food combinations—but ume tzatziki and shiso chermoula just might be something new for all of us. And there’s plenty of that and more at Grace Cafe, opening at 1401 SE Morrison on Friday, July 23. Chef and co-owner Brian Han—former chef de partie at the two-Michelin-starred Lazy Bear and head of the tasting menu at Aziza—combines Middle Eastern, North African, and Japanese influences, plus elements of his own Korean culture, in partnership with co-owner and former Top Chef contestant BJ Smith (formerly of Smokehouse 21, Smokehouse Tavern, Kim Jong Smokehouse, and more). 

In previous iterations, the restaurant was a pop-up called Dirty Habit; through the end of this week, it’s offering lunch under the name Silk Road. The new name, Grace Cafe, is a nod to Han and Smith’s upbringings. “BJ and I are both recovering Catholics,” Han says. “But we really appreciate the congregating and the community and coming together to sit down together and say grace at the table.”

Grace Cafe will offer lunch, dinner, and a daily happy hour, plus earlier opening hours on weekends to cater to the brunch crowd. The restaurant will offer dine-in, takeout, and outdoor seating. Everything on the menu, which is entirely gluten-free and mostly vegan or vegetarian, is named a la Bob’s Burgers: the lunch bowl section is Pack a Bowl, while side dishes like kimchi go under the Side Piece section. 

The Purple Reign

One of the signature dishes, the Purple Reign, combines the two dips of ume tzatziki and shiso chermoula with crispy-skinned Okinawan purple sweet potatoes, half a ripe avocado, seared oyster mushrooms, and mustard greens. In the Send Noods, housemade brown rice noodles get topped with scallion oil, baby bok choy, and a fried egg. The Mmm Bap is Han's take on bibimbap, combining multigrain rice with maitake mushrooms, fermented Brussels sprouts, purple carrots, bean sprouts, and housemade gochujang. And while most dishes are vegetarian or vegan by default, there’s also the option to add meat courses like hanger steak, chicken thigh, or Sichuan-spiced pork belly. Dessert options include a sticky date cake, with salted agave toffee glaze and toasted pepitas, plus lemongrass ice cream sandwiched between ginger cookies. During the day, the restaurant will serve toasts, bagels, waffles, smoothies, medicinal teas, cocktails, and Proud Mary Coffee. With dinner comes an entirely new section of the menu devoted to seasonal banchan, fusing Han’s love for small plate-style fine dining and Korean cuisine. There’s an entire cellar in the kitchen devoted to kimchi, pickles, and other fermented goodies. What caught our eye on the current menu: tom kha ricotta-stuffed squash blossom tempura with preserved lemon ponzu, jujube muhammara, and a tsukemono plate that includes white kimchi and pickled pomegranate lotus root.

The Mmm Bap

Han is originally from the Bay Area, where he worked at not only Lazy Bear and Aziza, but also the beloved Bar Tartine, where you’re equally likely to find Lebanese-style pizza, steak frites, and wild salmon in sake-reduced teriyaki. “I think this was when I first realized these very disparate cuisines can come together in a way that doesn’t clash,” Han says. 

Chef Brian Han

He spent the last few years in Los Angeles as a private chef, cooking everyday meals as well as high-end dinner parties. “I learned a completely different type of cuisine—typical healthy California, gluten-free, keto,” he says. He was also inspired by the wide range of cultures represented in LA’s restaurant scene, from Armenian food to hand-cut Korean noodles—plus his yearly trips to Tokyo. The food at Grace Cafe, he says, is the sum of all those experiences.

Back in LA, Han also co-founded a collective of food-loving and food-adjacent creatives called Cash Only, which is still running today. The collective created a zine featuring BIPOC, family-owned, and primarily cash-only restaurants often overlooked in LA’s often hype-fueled dining scene, and brought together people such as natural winemakers, leaders of community organizations, and artists, for events like fundraisers, dinners, and panels.

Han moved to Portland last summer, drawn to Oregon, like many chefs, by the bountiful fresh produce that he saw while visiting a friend’s family farm in Eugene. While getting Grace Cafe up and running, he’s also hoping to start a chapter of Cash Only in Portland, starting with a similar restaurant guide to the one he created in LA. Someday, he also hopes to turn Grace Cafe into an event space and community hub that'll host similar events to the ones he created at the collective.

“I found some amazing places, and it’s kind of just bucking the idea that this is a very white city...you’re just not looking hard enough,” Han says. “There is definitely a great thriving POC scene here, and a thriving POC community, and to just kind of overlook that and erase that, I think that's really problematic.”  

And while Grace Cafe represents a big shift from his previous fine dining and private cheffing experience, Han says he’s grateful for the change. “Coming into a more casual setting is something that I think I didn't have clear intent on doing,” Han says. “But as my career progressed, and especially after working as a private chef, seeing insane wealth inequality, [I wondered], where are my skills being utilized? Who is it for? Is it just for this one multi millionaire behind literally three gates to get into their property?” 

Accordingly, Han says the dishes at Grace Cafe will be modestly priced—around $15 per person for lunch and $20 per person for dinner, excluding drinks, and with portions far more generous than your typical tasting menu. “I want it to really be something that is enjoyable for all,” Han says.

Grace Cafe, opening July 23; 1401 SE Morrison St #117, 971-302-6924