How to Eat Like a Portland Pro
Bonnie Morales shares her go-to spots for PDX diningLeah Koenig
March 22, 2019
Chef Bonnie Morales became one of the country’s brightest culinary stars by celebrating the foods she knows best. Her Portland, Oregon restaurant Kachka, which she co-owns with her husband Israel Morales, features traditional and innovative interpretations of dishes beloved by her Belarusian family. Morales’s sweet and sour cabbage rolls, herring under a fur coat (a composed salad of beets, eggs, herring, and potatoes), scallion and farmer cheese dumplings, and house-infused vodkas have earned her critical acclaim and helped spark a national interest in Russian cuisine.
Kachka moved to bigger digs last summer, and part of the new space will be transformed into Kachka Lavka—a Russian-inspired deli that will sell prepared foods, sandwiches and loaves of Kachka’s house-baked bread, frozen dumplings, and a carefully curated selection of imported pantry items (think: cod liver oil and Latvian sprats). When not at Kachka, Morales makes time to explore Portland’s diverse and delicious food offerings with Israel and their two sons—everything from seasonally driven American spots to Thai food carts, Japanese bakeries, and the city’s best pizza. Here are some of her top picks.
My favorite restaurant in Portland is Coquine, period. The cuisine is new American but with really sturdy classic French technique. Katy Millard’s cooking captures the holy trinity of great restraint, great execution, and great products. I see her every time I’m at the farmers’ market—she is incredibly dedicated to sourcing from local growers. When my husband and I have an extra hour after dropping off the kids and before heading to work, we will stop there for breakfast. She has this sheep’s milk yogurt with cocoa nib granola and seasonal stewed fruit that is phenomenal. I’m also partial to buckwheat, which is a grain you don’t see nearly often enough in American cooking. So I am particularly drawn to Katy’s buttermilk buckwheat biscuit, which she serves with compound butter and jam.
Portland is a big food cart town. I especially love Nong’s Khao Man Gai, though I tend to go to one of their newer brick and mortar locations. They have added a couple of items to the menu, but it was originally a one-dish spot serving Thai-style braised chicken and rice with a side of chicken broth. It is so simple, comforting, and craveable—I never get tired of it.
I also love Oyatsupan, which is a Japanese bakery in Beaverton. It’s technically in the ‘burbs, but I always look for reasons to go there. They make incredible tonkatsu sandwiches, egg salad sandwiches, and Japanese eggplant sandwiches on their house-baked bread and buns. Their white bread is perfect—super fluffy and white. I’ll go there and get a loaf of that to make BLTs at home because it is just the best. I just got back from Japan for the first time and now that I have been there I appreciate Oyatsupan even more. Going there really feels like you’re traveling to Japan.
Since my husband and I run the restaurant together and have two kids, we know all the best pizza spots in town! Our favorite is Scottie’s Pizza Parlor, which makes New York–style pies and slices. Great pizza is always about the little nerdy things—crust with enough structure, dough with well-developed flavor, toppings that are carefully sourced. Eating at Scottie’s is not some fussy cerebral experience, but he [owner Scottie Rivera] knows how to turn out a great old-fashioned pizza.
For ice cream, we like Fifty Licks. I blame the kids for how often we go, but really it’s more that I want it! There is an intensity of flavor in their ice creams that sets them apart. They make a blackstrap gingersnap ice cream, and the molasses flavor is so unbelievable that you really appreciate it as a raw ingredient. I also usually hate sorbet, but their coconut saffron lemon sorbet will make you forget you wanted dairy.
There’s a chocolate and coffee shop that I love called Cloudforest. They are primarily a bean-to-bar chocolate company but opened a cafe recently. Their chocolate is unbelievable. Normally I get a mocha, which is so good and bitter and deep. And sometimes I get one of their exceptional chocolate chip cookies or buy chocolate bars for gifts. Because the cafe is on my way to work I stop there often, but I would absolutely go out of my way for it.
Bonnie Morales’s Portland Dining Guide
Cloudforest (Chocolate and Coffee)
1411 SE Start St; 971-271-8190
Coquine (Seasonal New American)
6839 SE Belmont St; 503-384-2483
Fifty Licks (Ice Cream)
Multiple locations; 503-395-3333
Nong’s Khao Man Gai (Thai)
Multiple locations; 503-208-2402
Oyatsupan (Japanese Bakery)
16025 SW Regatta Ln., Beaverton; 503-941-5251
Scottie’s Pizza Parlor (Pizza)
2128 SE Division St; 971-544-7878
Leah Koenig is a food writer, author of several cookbooks including Modern Jewish Cooking (Chronicle Books), and cooking instructor living in Brooklyn, NY. Follow her on Instagram at @leah.koenig.