Anytime I find myself in a vibrant city with a population in excess of half a million or with a significant population of Asians and Asian Americans, my intuition is that the food must be — has to be — good, especially the Asian food. Growing up in San Luis Obispo County and now living in Santa Barbara, there is usually a lot left to be desired after sad attempts to satisfy Asian food cravings by means of local purveyors (the only exception being sushi). Needless to say, I always have a hunger and a void I am so ready to fill with the tastiest of Pan-Asian flavors.
On a recent trip to Portland, I was able to indulge myself — albeit briefly — with Din Tai Fung, Afuri: Ramen and Izakaya and Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen.
DIN TAI FUNG
A Taiwanese outfit gone global, known for its xiaolongbao. Its Hong Kong location was the first restaurant in Taiwan to receive a Michelin star. The Portland location is located in Washington Square, a mall in the city’s outskirts. Suburban setting aside, the food was impeccably delicious as always. Consistency and precision are likely what make Din Tai Fung a favorite for many dumpling lovers worldwide.
I opted for the shrimp and pork wonton noodle soup and the cucumber salad, which was the perfect amount of food and comfort for a party of one on a cold and rainy Pacific Northwest day. Knowing what to expect and then having your expectations met is always comforting.
AFURI: Ramen + Izakaya
A Japanese import, renowned for its ramen. It specifically chose Portland because the water quality was ideal to create excellent broth by its standards. Every ramen aficionado knows that the flavor of broth is crucial for a well-executed noodle soup dish.
I ordered the Asari Shoyu Ramen, complete with clams, chashu pork, leek, scallions and a truffle jam in a hot bath of clam and chicken broth. When it arrived in front of me, the steam escaping the surface of the broth tantalized my taste buds. I ate every last bit of that ramen and licked every last drop of the soup. It was that good.
LUC LAC Vietnamese Kitchen
A Vietnamese-American joint, known for its late-night hours. You can order food up until closing time at 4 a.m. The restaurant was named for the traditional Vietnamese and Cambodian beef dish that both travelers and locals love alike. Sounds super appealing, right? Unfortunately, Luc Lac seemed lacking to me.
I ordered a bowl of pho and the shrimp and pork spring rolls. Just as broth makes or breaks a bowl of ramen, it does the same for pho. Although pho broth usually goes down well with a tinge of sweetness, Luc Lac’s broth was a tad bit too sweet for my taste. The pork in the spring rolls was on the dry side. I sat at the bar, where the bartender effectively ignored me for almost my entire time there. Toward the end, he asked me, “How was everything?” to which I replied, “It was okay.” He didn’t have a response for me. Staying at a hotel two blocks down, I had walked past this restaurant many times to see a line out the door with people patiently waiting to get in. I was disappointed, to say the least. But there is something about late-night food that can always be appreciated.
Portland is a city with many offerings, and this was just a small sliver of my experiences. Although time and finances limited all that I could explore, I was glad to be able to experience at least a few arguably delicious establishments. Next time you’re in Portland, consider giving these restaurants a try.