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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 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 pekin 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, Hat Yai and Lazy Susan. His newest outpost, Phuket Cafe, opened March 2022 and serves what is considered to be a direct reflection of the creativity happening in Thailand’s culinary scene right now, through the lens of Ninsom. 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.

  • Local chef Vince Nguyen has a robust culinary resume including stints at Michelin-star restaurants before settling in Portland and delving into his Vietnamese roots. At Berlu on SE Belmont, molecular gastronomy meets Vietnamese food on this multi-course tasting menu. A takeout Vietnamese bakery occupies the space on Sunday mornings.

  • Opened September 2022, Nico’s Cantina is a Guadalajara-inspired bar from Nico’s Ice Cream owner Nico Vergara serving complimentary botanas, tacos and more. The cantina features other Mexican- and Latinx-owned businesses such as beer from Salem’s Xicha Brewing, tortillas from Three Sisters Nixtamal, and booths by Orox Leather Co.

  • 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 same team behind Republica, La Fondita and more.

  • 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 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.

  • A Latin inspired bar and kitchen in the Alberta Arts District, Bar Cala opened 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. 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 Thuy Fam of Mama Dut is set to open her second location on NE Alberta soon, serving vegan versions of the Vietnamese dishes her mother cooked for her growing up. 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. His first spot, Gado Gado, is known for serving their interpretation of the Dutch-Indonesian “Rijsttafel” feast and a robust a la carte menu.