Over a year ago, I sat down with my great friends Milko and Emily and heard about their goal to open a brick and mortar restaurant. Successfully operating two of Portland’s hottest food carts, the duo had their sights set on a permanent location where they could dish up their signature Cuban dishes. After months of hard work renovating the old Taco del Mar on Hawthorne, they finally opened their doors to the public a couple weeks ago.
A lot of the same menu items can be found that they served at their food carts but with some amazing additions and a variety of beverages (they have their liquor license; mojitos, sangria, and rum cocktails look to die for). A longtime vegetarian, I was a huge fan of their vegan plate, which featured a delicious Caribbean salad, beans and rice, and a side. I got my all-time El Cubo favorite side dish- tostones. I’ll be getting the maduros next time as they are also killer. Kevin and Jan went for lunch on opening day and raved about both the Cuban Sandwich (oven roasted mojo pork and swiss on Cuban bread) and the Pan con Lechon (slow roasted mojo pork….mmmm….).
Stepping inside, I felt like I was invited over to a Cuban friend’s house for dinner. It feels perfectly Cuban but also Southeast hip. The wooden counter opens right to their sparkling kitchen and friendly cooks. The dining room has bright paint with paintings and photos straight from Cuba itself (the photographs are pretty sweet, stop and take a quick look). And, best yet, they have a patio! Even though us Portlanders only love patios in the dry months, we sure do enjoy them while we can!
So, support local entrepreneurs and wonderful people and have an affordable, delicious meal along the way! Nos vemos en El Cubo!
Positively, absolutely delicious.
Cristen and I decided to partake in Portland’s Dining Month – every year during the month of June. A ton of restaurants around Portland, including some of the nicest like Genoa, open their doors and welcome the masses to enjoy a three-course meal for only $29. That is unheard of for a restaurant of the caliber of Genoa, where the typical tasting menu is $65. So, naturally, Cristen and I jumped at the chance to have a stellar meal at a reasonable price.
The menu posted online for Genoa’s dining month had two options: a meat option and a vegetarian option. As a vegetarian myself, I was super stoked to try Genoa’s take on refined Italian vegetarian. Cristen, who is vegetarian and gluten-free, was also over the moon about the menu as we were told they were happy to accommodate her dietary needs. My mouth was watering all day in anticipation.
Needless to say, I was not let down.
We walked in to the beautiful dining room and were greeted by smiling faces and were escorted right to our lovely table. Our server explained the menu to us while we sipped on a fancy cocktail. In addition to the “steal of a meal”, Genoa offered a wine pairing with our meal for an additional $18. Having never tried a bona fide wine pairing/multi-course meal together, it was a no brainer.
An amuse-bouche was brought out to prep our palette and soon after our first course was brought out. A delightfully summery salad, it featured strawberries, pickled onions, and fresh goat cheese. Just perfect. That was followed with fennel risotto which was better than the previous course. I could eat that risotto all day, every day. The third course were oyster mushrooms and Walla Walla sweet onions with a tasty sauce on top. I love the texture of oyster mushrooms – the vegetarian’s filet. The wine pairings that came with each course were perfect accompaniments. I’m no wine expert, but I could see how they complemented each course perfectly.
A sweet little bite was brought out in lieu of a full-fledged dessert (we were stuffed!) but it was a lovely end to a lovely meal.
I was so excited about getting an amazing meal for such a great price. After my experience at Genoa, I would gladly go back and try out their regular $65 tasting menu another day. And I’m sure that day, I’ll be salivating in anticipation just like I was this time around (and I’d know what glory to expect!). Try it out for a special occasion, or just splurge. You won’t be disappointed.
Even on the rainiest of days you’ll see a line out the door and around the corner – what a testament to the greatness that is ¿Por Que No?. Food & Wine Magazine named it one of the nation’s best taco joints and Oregonian reader’s named it their favorite Mexican food in PDX. So what it is about this laid-back, eclectically decorated, South-of-the-border spot that is driving people taco crazy?
The ingredients and flavors are fresh, bright, and terribly delicious (my favorite thing is the guacamole perfection). They pay tribute to what’s seasonal with a revolving menu that features soups and other Mexican specialties that could be right out of your abuela’s cocina. It’s fast; even with a long line, you can be in and out comfortably in 20-30 minutes. The deliciousness doesn’t stop at the food either. Try one of their legendary margaritas or aguas frescas which probably have as many die-hard fans as their tacos. When the sun is shining, be sure to check out their back patio or front bench seating. Even when it is raining, the cozy, warm back patio covered section serves as a more than satisfying alternative.
It’s only three blocks from our office, which makes it a dangerously excellent lunch spot that we hit up at least once a week for a fix. Throwing a holiday party? They can pull together a taco bar or whatever your heart desires which will create a symphony of yummy noises from your guests. Or just stop by for a taco or three. You won’t regret it.
You may have seen one of their other two locations, Beaverton and SE 82nd, but you’ll catch the Caplener~Lincoln Group chowing down at Pho Van’s most stylish location at the corner of 34th and Hawthorne. Serving a menu that would please any picky patron, their spicy, savory dishes and sauces are absolutely to die for. Whether I’m in the mood to warm up with a delicious bowl of pho or dig in to one of their awesome vegetarian dishes (try the vegetable yellow curry – the yams make it so unique and oh-so-tasty!) or famous stir frys, I know I’m going to leave with a belly full – sometimes a doggy bag – and a smile on my face.
Our recommendation: hit up Pho Van before stopping by the sweet Hawthorne boutiques that surround it!