Pok Pok and Nong’s Khao Man Gai may have put Thai street food on Portland’s map, but the city’s Asian food options have recently exploded into exciting new territory.
Japan’s famous convenience food stores, called konbini, have inspired a new wave of shops in L.A. and New York, including David Chang’s Peach Mart at the swanky new Hudson Yards. But Portland is at the forefront of this trend too. The owners behind one of Portland’s first izakayas, Biwa, opened their version inside an import retail shop in late 2018. Giraffe Goods is a tiny grab-and-go shop/lunch counter, offering the kinds of bites you’d expect to see in Japan’s famous 7-Elevens. Think salted plum onigiri, or crispy tonkatsu cutlets between slices of soft white bread. Even better, the herb-flecked egg salad sandwich with a whole soft-boiled egg in the middle – it's become one of the most Instagrammed foods in town.
Bubble tea made inroads years ago, but lately it’s hit a new level of popularity and sophistication. According to Allied Market Research, the global bubble tea market was valued at $1.9 billion in 2016 and is projected to reach $3.2 billion by 2023. These stats are no surprise in Portland, where Asia’s hottest boba trends are popping up all over town. At Mojo Crepes, a hotbed of Japanese hot dogs and over-the-top filled crepes, you can get all manner of pearls and jellies in your drink, plus a layer of egg pudding on top. At Toast La Tea and Tiki Tea on Alberta, boba teas come topped with a billow of sea salt cream. At Boba Milk on inner Southeast Hawthorne, the drinks are strikingly layered with fruit purees. Tea Bar’s four locations go the botanical-wellness route with hand-shaken natural flavors like rose, lavender and turmeric-rich Golden Milk. Over at 22 Below, which specializes in Southeast Asian-style hand-rolled ice cream, you can even get popping bobas in a smoothie.
Portland is finally waking up to the wide world of shave ice, which has nothing to do with syrupy sno-cones, and is quickly turning into a shave ice hub. At Pim’s Honey Toast N Tea in downtown Portland you can get Korean bingsu, which combines fluffy shaved ice with ice cream and fresh fruit. It’s a refreshing counterpoint to the tea shop’s thick Thai-style dessert toasts. On weekends at Courier Coffee downtown, they haul out the Japanese kakigoriki machine to make massive bowls of snowy kakigori topped with things like caramelized soft cheese, fresh fruit purees, mochi and adzuki beans. Also downtown, Wailua Shave Ice brings tropical concoctions from Hawaii to the mainland with fine, snowy mounds topped with fruit purees and juices, fluffy cream and coconut milk. New Indonesian hotspot Gado Gado offers its version of the iconic cendol dessert — crunchy ice bits with palm sugar syrup, coconut milk, jellied pandan noodles, jackfruit, red beans and freeze-dried corn kernels. And at Tambayan and soon-to-open Magna Philipino restaurants, diners can finish their meal with a tall glass of icy-crunchy-chewy halo halo. Ichiza Kitchen gives halo halo a vegan twist with Aviv ice cream.
Hong Kong-style bubble waffles are another sensation, and the new outpost of Puffle Waffle brings them to the inner Eastside. The sweet, puffy waffles are sort of like edible bubble wrap encasing scoops of ice cream and fillings like fruit, cereal and even Pocky. Of course, Puffle Waffle offers trendy layered milky tea drinks too.
Even Portland’s coffee scene is getting more global. Kopi Coffee House serves kopi jahe, Indonesian-style coffee brewed with ginger, cardamom, nutmeg and cinnamon, as well as slow-extracted Vietnamese coffee with kaffir lime and lemongrass-infused sweetened condensed milk. And Burnside’s new Soro Soro Coffee and Dessert takes a page from the Korea’s ultra-cute cafes with bear-faced cakes plus affogatos topped with a cloud of cotton candy.