LBB bacon and cheddar cheeseburger with fries.

LBB bacon and cheddar cheeseburger with fries.

Well, this could be a problem.

Just months after Bunk Bar opened up next to Salt and Straw, Little Big Burger moved into the space previously inhabited by Flywheel skate shop on Alberta and NE 21st. Painted ketchup red with the brief menu and appealing prices printed in white lettering on the exterior, LBB is hard to miss, and harder to resist.

Located 500-ish steps from our front door (not nearly enough to cancel out any inevitable calories)  we headed over on a recent Friday night to welcome the new burger-focused inhabitants to the neighborhood. We ordered at the counter and had a seat at the bar to watch the staff hustle to fill dozens of orders with systematic efficiency.

LBB pepper jack cheeseburger.

LBB pepper jack cheeseburger.

"This ain't made in Salt Lake City."

“This ain’t made in Salt Lake City.”

Quarter-pound, burgers –not quite skinny patty, but not thick either — are cooked on the flat-top to a caramelized crust and ever-so-slightly pink interior. The perfect proportion to the toasted brioche bun on which they’re served, burgers come with what I consider essential burger toppings: pickle, onion, shredded lettuce, and your choice of cheddar, Swiss, chevre, pepper jack or blue cheese, should you swing that way. On the side, you’ve got one heavenly choice: truffle fries. Still sizzling from the fryer, they’re tossed in salt and truffle oil, pretty much transforming into crack. And though the Camden fry sauce bottle clearly and defiantly states “This ain’t made in Salt Lake City,” it does the hometown stuff proud.

Greedily thinking one burger each may not be enough — LBBs are deceivingly petite — we ordered three, plus two orders of fries, all of which turned out to be way more than we needed. Poof. It vanished nonetheless.

See what I mean by “problem?”

So, LBB, welcome to the neighborhood. We are glad you’re here and look forward to indulging in more of your skinny-patty, fry-sauce-laden goodness.



Chinese sausage corn dogs.

Chinese sausage corn dogs.

Thirty years ago, or even 20, if asked what I wanted to eat on my birthday, I would have surprised no one with my answer: “Noodles.” Little has changed. However, if you had told me that for my 45th, my wish for the perfect birthday dinner would also have included corn dogs in a sultry cocktail lounge setting, I would have suggested you have your noodle checked.

But living in Portland does unexpected things to a food lover’s perspective and cravings, and on a soggy end-of-March Friday, I could not wait to get over to NE Killingsworth and 30th for my fix.

As we did the first time we visited Expatriate, J and I took a seat at the window facing Naomi Pomeroy’s Beast, the site of other memorable feasts.

Expatriate is a collaboration between Pomeroy and husband Kyle Linden Webster, lauded former bartender at St. Jack. (Also the site of other memorable meals. Sensing a trend here?)

On paper, this lounge, with its Asian-inflected bar-snack menu, already has a pedigree, but Webster and Pomeroy’s devotion to balanced flavors and hospitality makes it special. Indeed, Webster has a gift for making people feel welcome. When he stops by to check on patrons, it’s not a typical obligatory manager drive-by. Instead, he looks you in the eye and, despite being clearly busy, he lingers to chat. I’ve seen him run out to the sidewalk to talk with and offer suggestions to people who had come inside but couldn’t find a seat.

Cocktails to brighten the dreariest day.

Cocktails to brighten the dreariest day.

Crunchy, delicious brussels sprouts salad.

Crunchy, delicious brussels sprouts salad.

We started with cocktails, the No. 8 for me and the Precariat for J, sipping while we perused the menu, trying to narrow it down to an order that would not overwhelm our intimate corner of the window counter. On this visit, we skipped the deliciously simple onion and butter sandwich, an ode to James Beard on crustless white bread. Last time we were here, a fortuitous kitchen mixup brought us two orders, so we felt OK passing it over this time.

Not pass-up-able, however, were the aforementioned corn dogs, like the corn dogs of your childhood, stick and all, but made so much better with delicately sweet Chinese sausage in place of the standard hot dog. They are served with a potent sinus-cleansing mustard.

Oregon Dungeness crab Rangoon.

Oregon Dungeness crab Rangoon.

Burmese coconut noodles.

Burmese coconut noodles.

Following that was dungeness crab Rangoon: crispy wontons filled with local crab meat and cream cheese. New to us this time around was the most craveable salad: caramelized brussels sprouts, butternut squash cubes, Napa cabbage and ground lamb, every bite a delicious crunchy balance of sweet, salty, sour and savory. And from the “Hungrier” part of the menu, we ordered the tempura cod sandwich and, of course, the noodles: a generous bowl of coconut-scented broth and noodles with fried duck confit, topped with a beautifully soft-boiled egg.

By the time we had finished, the crowd had filled in behind us, and it was time to relinquish our coveted seats to some other lucky couple. We walked home feeling lucky to have so many delicious options in our neighborhood and grateful for another year.


Radishes, radish greens and compound butter.

Radishes, radish greens and compound butter.

In a break with tradition, we ventured out of our kitchen this Sunday evening to Old Salt Marketplace on NE 42nd Avenue. Sister restaurant to Grain & Gristle, Old Salt is rustic and neighborhood-friendly, a spot for a casual meal: spring radishes with miso compound butter; tangy beef tartare with thick-cut potato chips and piquant aioli; wood-fired duck egg on toast with chèvre; smoked half-chicken, roasted new potatoes and fiddlehead ferns; lamb, chèvre, sliced sugar snap peas and mint over linguini. Oh, and a couple of biscuits with sweet cream butter to sop up that chicken jus. Welcome, May, and happy Sunday.

Fresh strawberries over biscuits. Summer.

Fresh strawberries over biscuits. Summer.

Portland is twitchy for summer.

For the past few weeks, a wet gloom has settled in, granting only brief merciful glimpses of warmth and sun. Then, June 1 dawns, and with it a glorious Saturday.

After a walk around the neighborhood, a drink or two at one of our favorite wine bars and dinner on Alberta Street, a sweet treat beckons. On the stroll home we duck into Pine State Biscuits for this beauty: Two biscuit halves topped with fresh, sweet strawberries and whipped cream.

SOS: summer on a shingle.

Minizo ramen

Happiness on a stick.

Minizo. Thanks for meeting me tonight. I know I shouldn’t … we shouldn’t. But the attraction is too great. It shouldn’t feel right — hot soup and steaming dumplings on a sun-baked August evening — but when that twilight breeze brushes my legs, well I can’t explain it. It just is right. It can’t be helped.


Tri-colored beauties.

You know I find you irresistible: your fresh handmade noodles boiled to order; the pinch of sprouts in the bottom of the bowl, awaiting the hot bath of broth; that soft-boiled egg, melting into the soup; the thinly sliced pork. Yes, I noticed it all. How could I not? All this cool confidence and yet you’re playful enough to display the plastic Godzilla on the counter. I’m feeling faint. Is it getting hotter? Or is it just me?

Stumplings, right next door, does not make this affair any easier. If I’m waiting, waiting for handmade noodles cooked to order, how can I resist handmade steamed dumplings? Yes, I am weak, but I am not ashamed. I am in love. It can’t be helped.

Mushroom Swiss burger and fries. And fry sauce. Wait, fry sauce?

A bleak, cold, rainy, winter weekend in Portland. Logical activities for this kind of weather might include curling up with a warm dog, diving into a good book or perhaps organizing a sock drawer. But this is the Northwest, and neither rain, nor wind, nor sleety cold deters any self-respecting PDXian. So what do we do? We head out for one of our epic walks, followed by a late-afternoon lunch. This time, our target is Skyline Burgers on Broadway.

Outside, it’s an inconspicuous storefront with an almost miss-able sign. Inside, a rather unexpectedly cavernous diner displays what I can only call a creative assortment of entertainment and aesthetic choices:  sparkling red and grey vinyl booths, a wall mural of what could be a pair of “Happy Days” characters (if Richie Cunningham had insanely bulging forearms), a gigantic projection TV, and a handful of arcade video games. It’s perfectly quirky, and therefore perfect for us.

We sat down at one of the booths next to the front windows and ordered a couple of drinks — a full bar is always welcome during or after an epic walk. The meaty menu comprises apps, sandwiches, burgers, dogs, salads, soups, classic diner entrees and fountain drinks. We knew going in what we were going to order. If “burger” is in the name, that’s what we’re eating, by golly. For me, a mushroom Swiss burger. For J, a giant cheese burger with bacon. To start, mac-and-cheese wedges (can’t put something as wacky as that on a menu and not expect me to order it) and a cup of split pea soup.

So, the mac and cheese wedges. You’ve got your basic box-style mac and cheese, formed into triangles, deep fried and served with ranch dressing. Oh, and celery and carrots, if you care a whit about vegetables. They were good, not amazing. More of a novelty than a great dish, but a great idea. (I would try a version at home.) The soup: good, hearty and pea-green. Just what you crave on a wet, cold day.

Now for the burgers. These are of the skinny-patty variety, and not a bad example at all. Despite being skinny patties, mine was medium rare — a pleasant surprise. The bun was a decent sesame seed kind. Good bun/patty ratio. Critical. The fixins were lettuce leaves (not shredded), dill pickles, sliced red onions, sliced tomatoes and mayo, resulting in a pleasant flavor combination. In our experience, the skinny-patty burger is as much about the accoutrements as the burger itself. Skyline Burger’s version had a good mix. French fries accompanied the burgers: lovely flavor, could be crisper. But what what’s this? Fry sauce? Why, Skyline, we didn’t expect to see this home-state (Utah) standard here. And is that a hint of horseradish? Well played. We ate. We sipped. We were pleased. And full.

Warmed from the insides, and just numb enough to not care about pulling on already-soaked coats, we headed out, up the hill. Toward the warm dog, unread books and a completely messed-up sock drawer.

Now Open (Again): Aviary

January 1, 2012

Kerr canning jars with a sprig of rosemary are part of the table settings at Aviary.

Aviary is finally open again, months after a July 4th roof fire shuttered the chic small-plates eatery on Alberta Street. The space looks basically the same except for the addition of a sleek bar in back, much appreciated if you must wait for a table. Just as before, the menu features beautifully composed dishes with nicely balanced flavors. As before the fire, our only complaint is the sometimes-spotty service.

Nevertheless, we consider ourselves lucky to have Aviary back in the neighborhood, and we look forward to many more dinners. Here are some photos from our New Year’s Eve prix-fixe dinner.

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Bar Lolo's new look.

Bar Lolo's new look.

Hey, Lolo! (Sorry … Bar Lolo.) So great to see you the other night. It’s been a while, and we have to say you are looking good. Really good. You’ve taken some time to focus on yourself, and it has paid off.

It looks like you’ve kept the best of what attracted us to begin with, and made a few small, but standout changes. First, we adore the pops of color — those coral-crimson chairs and bar stools, the wall of colorful paella pans and the natural wood wine holder really stand out against the cool putty colored walls and floor. And the blinged-out longhorn cow skull over the door proves you haven’t lost your sense of humor. We’re also totally digging the fact that you’re really getting back to your tapas-bar roots. The high wooden tables along the window scream Madrid. I see J and I and our fellow neighborhoodies dropping in after work for a glass of Albariño, cider or a cocktail, and a few small bites before a night on the town.

You’ve also made a few positive changes to the menu. We sampled quite a few tapas last night, including our longtime favorite shredded romaine salad, but I have to say, those specials you whipped up: Warm mission figs topped with Serrano ham and Gorgonzola? Are you kidding me? I thought I’d died and gone to heaven with that salty-sweet medley. I’m so glad we placed a last-minute order for the special paella croquettes — crispy fried spheres, perfectly proportioned, oozing with hot saffron-scented paella, chicken and shrimp in the middle. Incredible. We also love that you ditched the full-size burger in favor of delicious mini lamb sliders. Such a treat. And though we didn’t need them, we could not resist the  piping-hot churros with chocolate and honey dipping sauces. You really outdid yourself.

It was good catching up, Lolo. You look good, and you seem to have your groove back. The makeover has done done wonders, and I hope it gets you the attention you deserve. Maybe we can hang out sometime?

Mash Tun: Summer Edition

August 6, 2011

Mash Tun's Fried Zucchini

Fried zucchini sticks. (Careful: HOT.)

Saturday night in early August. The seasons have shifted, but our cravings remain much the same. So we head down the street for the familiar burgers,  amiable service and laid-back vibe at our fave neighborhood brewpub.

+ daylight.

Mash Tun’s new outdoor patio (wisteria-covered trellis should start to fill in next year) is a welcome addition to the neighborhood. And  with Pine State Biscuits’ outdoor seating just next door, 22nd and Alberta is a corner to be reckoned with. (Oh … and we discovered the fried zucchini strips. Not listed on the menu as an app; only as a sandwich. Ask for them. Good stuff. )

Pok Pok Noi chicken wings

Sweet, salty, savory Vietnamese fish-sauce wings.

Last Friday. It seems like a lifetime ago, now, but lingering throughout the oceanic week were memories of our casual takeout dinner from our new(ish) neighbor, Pok Pok Noi. Bearing little resemblance to the Thai menus I’m used to, Noi serves up  traditional Thai street food easily eaten standing up, or perhaps sitting on a curb or stoop, food perched on knees.  And, in keeping with the street-food theme,  it’s not uncommon in the summertime to see couples sitting under umbrellas at the two sidewalk tables devouring ears of grilled corn, skewered meats and the like.

Located next door to Grain & Gristle, the tiny restaurant does a brisk takeout business, but you’ll always find people eating at the  few seats at the bar, standing up by the front window overlooking the aforementioned picnic tables, or sitting on the petite patio out back. Walking through the front door, you’re greeted with the unmistakable aroma of fish sauce and chiles. The backlit signage next to the bar depicts the menu’s offerings, and a blackboard details a drinking vinegars and other libations, including bottled and draft beers, cocktails and coffees.

For our living-room picnic, we ordered the Het Paa Naam Tok, a salad made with  forest mushrooms, shallots and lemongrass that arrived with a little container stuffed with a magical mixture of cilantro leaves, mint and a prickly toasted rice powder, When mixed with the meaty mushrooms, the result was an earthy, spicy, bright salad. And then the Papaya Pok Pok salad:  julienned green papaya, tomatoes, and long beans with spicy, aromatic lime and fish sauce complementing the fresh veg. Optional soft-shell black crab makes the dish a bit of a project: biting, sucking, slurping and discarding, but delicious nonetheless. Alongside the dish, a plastic sandwich baggie with a scoop of sticky rice, easily pinched off and eaten with the fingers.

Beyond salads, we ordered the Muu Seteh, pork loin skewers topped with a tiny gem of glistening pork fat,  served with an addictive peanut dipping sauce. But the star of this show is the much-written-about Vietnamese fish-sauce wings: a heap of dark, sticky, sweet, salty, meaty chicken wings, so addictive, savory and satisfyingly filling. The first time we ordered them, I could not fathom making a meal of chicken wings, and yet, that’s what happens.

We say it all the time, and you’ll probably tire of hearing it before we stop: We feel so lucky to live in this amazing neighborhood, and jewels like Pok Pok Noi make our good fortune that much better.