What’s Russian Cuisine? Find out at Kachka

I laughed really hard when I read the introduction to Kachka chef, Bonnie Morales’ cookbook, Kachka: A Return to Russian Cooking.  She tells the story of when she and her husband Israel were opening Kachka in 2013 and they interfaced with contractors, inspectors, vendors, food writers, banks, potential employees.  In short, in every discussion, once she mentioned her restaurant to be would serve food from the former Soviet Union, she was met with blank stares, long pauses and confusion.

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What are Arepas? Find Out at Teote

Practically everyone has heard of a tortilla, but not everyone has heard of an arepa.  Not having traveled to South America, I wasn’t familiar with arepas until I ate at Teote, years ago in Portland.

It all starts with corn. Corn is important to Latin American cultures. So much so, that there are prayers and celebrations in honor of this life giving plant, which is maize in Spanish.

The versatile corn plant, crafted into arepas

And since there are a couple dozen Latin American countries, spread out over two continents, it only makes sense that corn is crafted into many different dishes. Tacos, tamales, tortillas, pupusas, posole, and arepas come to mind.  When I’ve traveled in Mexico, I have seen women smacking maize back and forth in their hands, until they form a flat tortilla.  When I was in El Salvador, I took a cooking class to learn how to make pupusas.  Pupusas are slightly more complicated, as they contain not only maíze, but also beans (frijoles) and cheese (queso) and possibly vegetables.

Come and sample arepas (and more) at Teote

And I am positive when I make it to South America (hopefully winter of 2021), I will see arepas sold as street food and in the markets. And with luck, take a class on making arepas. In the meantime, I will keep eating at Teote.  And I will keep bringing guests on the Bustling Buckman Food Tour to the Teote House Café, which is located in a refurbished vintage home near Ladd’s Addition.  And I will note, that since Teote opened up there in 2013, they have expanded with the Mezcaleria in the Alberta Arts district and the Outpost in Pine Street Market downtown.  So you have lots of options!

Arepas are the Columbian and Venezuelan corn dish of choice and have been, long before the Europeans colonized the New World.  In fact, it is believed that they are not much different now than they were 3,000 years ago.  Talk about endurance. 

They are thicker than a tortilla, but definitely round and flat.  Another key difference is that the arepa flour is NOT alkali treated, like so many other maize products.  The soaked kernels make for a moist batter.  Although the magic comes when they hit the grill.  Lightly fried to perfection, the outside is crispy and the inside is still moist.

Sounds so yummy! How are they served?

Grounding and nourishing, arepas can be eaten any time of day.  Traditionally, they are either an accompaniment to a meal or a snack themselves.  They are perfect for sopping up spicy and/or wetter foods, which is exactly how they are served at Teote.  Or picture them stuffed with beans or cheese, or grilled meats, fish or chicken.  The adjective versatile comes to mind. 

Teote is Venezuelan cuisine, but not in the strictest sense.  They utilize South American grilling techniques (YUM!) and combine that with Northwest ingredients.  This translates into organic and local meats that are braised with the spices and sauces best paired with the cut of meat.  Examples include chicken with a distinctly smoky sauce or brisket with a salsa verde.  And vegetarians, we’ve got you covered with black beans accompanied by a plantain sauce.  A generous sprinkle of local veggies gives the arepas that extra pop on what is essentially a divine ethnic comfort food.

I don’t want to give too much away.  But at the end of the Bustling Buckman Hood Food Tour, guests name Teote as their favorite stop about 75% of the time.  The arepas are THAT good!

  • Teote House Cafe
  • 1615 SE 12th Ave
  • Portland, OR 97214
  • Teote Mezcaleria
  • 2700 NE Alberta St
  • Portland, OR 97211
  • Teote Outpost
  • Pine Street Market
  • 126 SW 2nd Ave
  • Portland, OR 97204
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The Teote House Cafe – as featured on our Portland food tour

Get Your Israeli Street Food Fix at Shalom Y’all

Through the years, I have watched John Gorham build his Portland food empire, one delicious restaurant at a time.  His business model it interesting, as he serves different cuisines, but they all have delicious dining in common.

The John Gorham empire expands

It all started with Toro Bravo which is Spanish influenced, although not in the strictest of ways.  Tasty and Sons and Tasty and Alder soon followed.  Then Tasty and Sons morphed into Tasty and Daughters.  They are excellent brunch spots, serving upscale and creative twists on traditional items like poached eggs, and French toast.

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A Slice of Hog Heaven – Tails and Trotters

Every time I walk into Tails and Trotters I comment (to myself), “this is a slice of hog heaven, well actually it is not heaven for a hog, but it sure is heaven for a human.”  Of course this assumes that you are not vegetarian.  And if that is the case, then keep reading!

Pork is nutrient dense and flavorful, not to mention adaptable to different cuisines.  Now imagine if those happy pigs were finished off on hazelnuts.  I bet you realize that would impart a distinctively complex and rich flavor to the meat.  Well that is exactly what you can discover for yourself at Tails and Trotters.

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Providore Fine Foods – Visit on a Portland Food Tour

Providore claims to be a purveyor of fine foods and it is indeed just that.  It is actually a mix of several businesses that each occupy space in the same building.  And the synergy of the mix is awesome.  Providore’s website lists:  Pastaworks (fresh pasta, wine, and a deli), Arrosto (rotisserie chicken), Flying Fish Company (replete with its own oyster bar and soup samples), The Meat Monger (think duck, quail, hazelnut finished pork, and pasture fed beef), Rubinette Produce Market (with unusual varieties of usual fruits and veggies), Little T Baker (artisan bread and sweet treats) and Hillary Horvath Flowers (think seasonable like eye popping peonies and wild berry flowers).

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Pambiche – a Slice of Old Havana

I discovered this gem years before I moved to Portland.  It came to me through word of mouth in one of those classic “where are the fun restaurants in Portland” conversations.  Although I did not purposely move a few blocks from it to be nearby, it’s certainly an added benefit of living in the Kerns. And how terrific that on a rainy Oregon day, I can slip into Pambiche – a slice of old Havana with Cuban hospitality.

So Pambiche, touts itself as Cuban food, which I believe you will find to be very similar to other food from the Caribbean and Central America.  Countries in those regions are geographically small, therefore the overlapping of food crops that thrive there is to be expected.  And yet, each country develops its own customs of preparing food, creating a sense of national identity.

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GÜERO – The Home of La Torta

It’s a food truck turned restaurant.  It may not be the American dream, but it is the Portland dream.  Humble beginnings gather a loyal and excited crowd and eventually, the brick and mortar Güero restaurant is born.  I love it!

Güero has made its name by serving tortas, and more specifically, torta ahogada, which is a drowned torta.  This is the result of a happy accident that happened years ago in Jalisco, Mexico, when the contents of the sandwich fell into a pot of red chile sauce.

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Arrosto – Chicken Like Grandma Used to Make

Arrosto’s, food is nothing like fussy, but prepared with attention to detail. It is pretty much like the type food I would cook at home. But when I don’t have time, I have the comfort and convenience of chicken and potatoes close to my home.

In fact, the potatoes roasted in chicken drippings is what makes me a loyal customer. And once you taste them, I have no doubt you will be coming back again and again.

They are the perfect blend of crispy and salty on the outside, soft in the middle, and enrobed in nutrient dense chicken fat. Perfect any season of the year, any day and any time of day.

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