An upside to this upside-down world: a chance to step back and say, “Who am I?” With his indoor modernist food chamber on pandemic hold, chef Vince Nguyen did just that, delving fully for the first time into Vietnamese food culture. The upshot: Berlu Bakery, a small, compelling collection of sweet and savory treats three days a week—irresistible bánh bò nuong (pandan honeycomb cake) to old-school chàtrú’ng, a steamed, noodle-threaded pork meatloaf with a wafer-thin omelette roof, everything gluten- and dairy-free. Friday nights are for preordered, heat-at-home Vietnamese soups. Expect two options per week, one vegan, and both showcasing Nguyen’s wonderful handmade fermented rice noodles, careful broths, and graceful presentations. Don’t miss the trompe l’oeil salad rolls, which “trick the eye” into seeing shrimp pressed against the translucent wrappers. Turns out, what’s underneath is Nguyen’s expertly shaved carrots. 605 SE Belmont St —Karen Brooks
It’s official. The city’s best classic cheeseburger hails from a Northeast bar best known for dialed cocktails and irresistible Asian-spiced munchies. After a yearlong quest to rank Portland’s 20 best cheeseburgers, PoMo’s “Burger Cabal” gave Expatriate’s American Standard the championship belt, perfectly proportioned with juicy meat, an extra-thick blanket of cheese, planetary raw onion rings, and plunks of Heinz ketchup and French’s mustard. It doesn’t miss a beat inside a takeout box. With indoor dining still offline, the to-go menu reads like Expatriate’s greatest hits, hot and sour Indian-spiced fries to crazy-good wonton chip nachos with spicy lemongrass beef. And, after industry pleas to the state legislature gods, cocktails (here and elsewhere) are finally legit to go. 5424 NE 30th Ave —KB
The city’s food cart scene is resurgent behind new places like this one, nestled inside a bustling Nob Hill pod. The mode is foodie family friendly—truffled mac and cheese to seasonal bowls sporting the likes of farm-grown winter berries, fresh greens, three kinds of citrus, Ayers Creek Farm grains, and Greek yogurt. But the high point is the Beast, a double-pattied smashburger that captures the zeitgeist of a Big Mac without the middle bun, backed by warm, gooey cheese and sauce. 1845 NW 23rd Pl —KB
This petite St. Johns pizzeria from Craig Melillo stars naturally fermented pizza crust wood-fired to a crackling finish and robust tomato sauce. The tomato pie showcases both, topped with garlic, fresh oregano, and a sprinkle of pecorino. That sauce is also served alongside the popular calzone, stuffed full of stretchy mozzarella, salty ricotta, and fennel sausage, then topped with hot honey. Vegan pizza? Melillo can do that, too. For dessert, shockingly good house-made ice cream stars rotating flavors like brown sugar coffee and chocolate sesame.
8737 N Lombard St —Katherine Chew Hamilton
For years, Earl Ninsom’s Thai tasting menu hideaway was booked months in advance for regional recipes rarely found on these shores. Now, in pandemic mode, Langbaan lives as a high-flying noodle-soup shop. One dish floats superb seafood dumplings and shredded king crab in a briny seaweed broth that tastes straight from the ocean. It’s a head-expanding dive into stuffed noodles, surprising heat, and gale-force sea breeze. Another find, the spicy-sour yen ta-four, juggles seafood, just-right noodles, and otherworldly snow fungus mushrooms in a complex broth flashing fermented bean curd, chile-garlic vinegar, and Sriracha. 6 SE 28th Ave —KB
Richard Le has put corporate fast-food giants on notice at his singular food cart. What began in 2018 as straightforward family recipes is now a personal remix of Vietnam and America in ever-changing dishes delivered with hip-hop bravura. On “fast food days,” you might find a Filet-o-Fish sando teeming with American cheese, spicy tartar sauce, and pickled slaw parked inside a pandan milk bun handmade by Le’s wife, Sophia. It hoses its muse at McDonald’s. Other days, watch for ba noi, a tribute to Le’s grandma’s steak and fries. Now, in a new home at Metalwood Salvage, sitting among industrial art creations, Matta is helping pioneer a future-world, pandemic-born pod. Wine and beer also available. 4311 NE Prescott St —KB
Treat yourself to a takeout feast from this vegan, BIPOC, and cooperatively owned Sri Lankan restaurant. Weekend dinners offer a set menu of five to seven rotating vegetable curries artfully arranged atop a banana leaf—think stir-fried okra and cherry tomatoes or ridged gourd in turmeric-coconut curry—plus papadam and rice. Add jackfruit curry or extra-spicy chick’n curry to round out your plate. Punctuate each bite with sambols: lime and chile shredded coconut or jammy tamarind with onion. Weekday and weekend lunch menus offer street food like string hoppers and kottu roti. 2420 SE Belmont St, mirisata.com —KH