Skip to content
Langbaan courtesy of Chrisine Dong  3

Portland Chefs Inspired by their Roots

Peking duck. Miang Plahh Jaramed. Matoke Curry. These are some of the dishes that are shaping Portland’s culinary scene.

Peking duck. Miang Plahh Jaramed. Matoke Curry. These are some of the dishes that are shaping Portland’s culinary scene. It’s no longer just traditional Pacific Northwest fare like salmon and hazelnuts that have locals buzzing about with full stomachs. Sure, we still have that – and it’s still great– but the pandemic has created space, quite literally and figuratively, for chefs of all backgrounds to introduce their culture through food to Portland’s dining scene. It’s this melting pot of Mexican, Vietnamese, Haitian, Kenyan, Thai and Filipino chefs, to name a few, that are serving some of Portland's most exciting and diverse dishes right now.

Please see below for a glimpse of the chefs that are taking the Portland culinary scene by storm:

  • Opened in August 2022 by celebrated chef Gregory Gourdet, Kann is a live-fire Haitian restaurant and one of the hottest spots in town serving delectable dishes like Peking duck, plantain brioche, and more. Downstairs, Sousòl – the Haitian Creole word for “basement” – serves both alcoholic and “zero proof” cocktails — with a similar theme, pairing rums and local spirits with Caribbean spices, fruits, vegetables, and house-made orgeat.

  • Bangkok-born Portlander Akkapong “Earl” Ninsom first cooked westernized Thai-American food at his family’s restaurant in St. Johns before taking off to open Portland hot spots like Paadee, Eem, and Hat Yai. At , Phuket Cafe, the menu features a non-traditional take on live fire, charcoal cookery balanced by energetic, vibrant cocktails. Another Nimson long-time Portland favorite Langbaan has also moved to Phuket Café – operating as a restaurant within a restaurant – serving a multi-course Thai tasting menu that changes seasonally inspired by different regions of Thailand and the cultural history that surrounds those regions. In October 2023, he brought us Yaowarat, inspired by the Yaowarat Chinatown of Ninsom's native Bangkok where he find comfort in late-night bowls of peppery noodle soup, desserts, Thai-Chinese dishes like grilled squid, pickled cabbage salad, and mapo tofu. For this project, Nimson brought on longtime cocktail collaborator Eric Nelson, former Sweedeedee chef Sam Smith, and Expatriate co-owner Kyle Linden Webster, and after traveling together to immerse themselves in the culture, they built their own version of Yaowarat Road right in Portland's Montavilla neighborhood.

  • At Lilia, Pacific Northwest cuisine is seen through the lens of Mexican-American Chef Juan Gomez. Operating as a "comedor" inspired by the small and casual neighborhood establishments in Mexico where you can sit down and have a wonderful meal that will usually feature a special of the day, Lilia’s menu builds on what’s in season; featuring the bounty from different producers and farms, along with a few other surprises. Brought to you by the team behind Republica.

  • Opened September 2022 in Sellwood, Maisha is a meat-free Kenyan food cart specializing in dishes like mandaza, ugali, and matoke curry. Chef Tachibana Sheikh was born in Kenya, one of 22 siblings, and grew up in the kitchen cooking for his family of chefs and merchants. He is said to have opened his food cart because he missed the food of his childhood.

  • Masala Lab is the first brick-and-mortar by Chef Deepak Saxena, the man behind the popular Desi PDX food cart in the Prost Marketplace Food Cart Pod. Here, Chef Saxena serves an Indian-inspired brunch, lunch and pastries. Think Chaat Hash with pickled chilis, fried curry leaves, and date chutney; an Indian twist on shrimp and grits, and Kitchari – Deepak's childhood breakfast with savory rice dhal, cabbage and herb salad, and pickled egg. Starting January 2024, Masala Lab will be offering dinner, inspired by Chef Deepak's culture and life experiences, with each dish telling a story of a cherished memory, a visited place, or a discovered flavor.

  • A Latin-inspired bar and kitchen in the Alberta Arts District, Bar Cala opened in late June 2022 by Portland residents Victor Daniel Cerda Zamorano and Fernando Damas. Here, Zamarano honors his Chilean heritage with dishes like steak with chimichurri and grilled octopus with burnt habanero marinade. Since its opening, Bar Cala has become a hub for the Portland Latine culture with their popular DJ nights on weekends filling the space. And of course, a trip to Bar Cala isn’t complete without trying one of their Latin cocktails – pisco sour, anyone?

  • The above new kids on the block opened after some of Portland’s most well-known restaurants, such as Magna Kusina by celebrated Chef Carlo Lamagna who plays with the cuisine of his childhood, incorporating techniques and tricks to bring Filipino food to the spotlight in Portland. Chef Thomas Pisha-Duffly of Oma’s Hideaway finds inspiration by his Oma, Kiong Tien Vandenberg. Inspired by her ability to adapt and stay creative, Oma’s serves bright, funky and playful food influenced by the cuisine of Southeast Asia.