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Asian Cuisine

Soul in the Bowl


In the pantheon of home cooks, there's none more superior than grandma. Just make sure your mom’s not around to hear you say it.

But that rule doesn’t scale at Ben Bui's Fish Sauce, where Bui's mother, Lauren Huynh, runs the line (and in effect, the kitchen's show), turning out plate after plate of the same dishes she used to prepare for Ben at home when he was just a little boy.

“It’s mommy food,” Bui says. And there’s lots of it to try, but the one thing that’ll keep you coming back is Huynh’s phở.

While there’s lots to love about phở—Fish Sauce’s comes in beef, chicken and veggie flavors—the soul in the bowl belongs to the broth. And Huynh’s homemade broth is the kind of comforting thing that can right all your wrongs.

Each week, she fills three industrial sized pots with water and beef shanks, seasons those with star anise, coriander, fennel and clove, and and then simmers those pots for a full day until she’s got enough broth to last the week.*

If you’re dining in, you’ll enjoy the space. It’s spare and full of clean modern lines, and for a room with a 20-person family-style table and an open kitchen, it’s surprisingly intimate, too.

Plus, the best part of are those first few slurps is the savory smell of the steam that mists off your soup's surface.

There’s nothing that quite beats a homemade soup, and this one might even trump your own grandma’s.

But don’t worry. Ain't no one telling.

Fish Sauce, 407 NW 17th Ave., 503.227.8000

* Sorry, vegetarians and vegans: there have been heroic efforts made to pull off a tasty veggie stock, but Bui decided that none of their experimental broths could match a good old-fashioned beef stock.

Smallwares: The New Bacon

If Johanna Ware's fried kale isn't the New Bacon yet, expect it to be. And soon.

While you can seemingly do anything with kale—you can cook it into a salad, blend it into a smoothie and dry it into a chips—the best way to make it just might be be the way Ware makes it—tempura-fried, bathed in fish sauce, scattered with mint and sprinkled with (what else?) bacon. Candied bacon.

Since she's opened Smallwares's doors, Ware's sorta been Portland's "It" girl. And there's a reason for that. Her proudly "inauthentic" approach to pan-Asian cuisine is always artfully prepared, and always surprising—small plates from her raw bar change daily, but they're always done up with something that makes your ears stand up. Think of "invisible" ingredients like chile oil that you don't know you're gonna taste or feel until you do.

But with her fried kale—a dish inspired by her time cooking at NYC's momfuku’s ssäm bar (that one used Brussels sprouts) and that slowly evolved over time (Smallwares’s kitchen fried butternut squash, then rapini, before settling on kale)—Ware has turned a superfood into a comforting and crunchy snacker. The leaves are surprisingly sturdy and, well, it's made with fish sauce and bacon—two of the most perfect ideas ever dreamt up—making it a reliable anchor on a delightfully fluid menu.

Start there, then eat your way through the rest of it. 

Smallwares, 4605 NE Fremont St., 971.229.0995