From the West End to the Eastern Prom and from Commerical Street to Park Avenue, the best of Portland's dining scene can be found in a condensed space. But, there are some hidden gems that you actually have venture out a bit for, mostly to Forrest Ave. I'm talking Po' Boys and Pickles, Susan's Fish and Chips and Saigon Restaurant. They're all their own representation of comfort food and are all restaurants that The Missus and I love not only for their charm, but for their delicious, and ridiculously inexpensive food.
A recent trip to Saigon was purely for the comfort factor. After an exceedingly stressful ending to the day, I wanted nothing more than to hunker over one of their sizable bowls of Pho (make no mistake, they are serving up the best in Portland) and be soothed by the warming blends of spices in their broth.
I can only make a guess as to what it contains: cinnamon? Star anise? clove? Black pepper? Unicorn Tears? It honestly doesn't matter--you don't always need to look behind the curtain to see how the magic is made--all I know is that it did it's trick. My dish was 'E7,' a combination of rare beef and beef meatball, while The Missus, who is always a bit more adventurous when it comes to Pho consumption, ordered the 'E8' or Pho Special with tripe, nape, rare beef and well done beef. Her only sadness was that there was no meatball. Not that there was much room, even at a medium sized ordering, we were both struggling to finish the majority of the bowl.
Both were served with the traditional accompaniments of Thai basil, sawtooth herb, bean sprouts, sliced chiles hot chili paste and limes.
Surely, that would have been plenty for anyone, but this actually proceeded three other dishes like
the tofu soup that seems to be complimentary with every order. We've been to Saigon three time and neither one of us has any idea what it actually is (aside from being a wonderfully sweet tofu soup that always only seems to have one pea in it).
The Missus always has to have her prerequisite Crab Rangoon. I wouldn't say that there's a whole lot of crab happening in these, but at least they don't taste like the artificial crab that fills many a rangoon in town. To me, they came off more like extremely crunchy cream cheese dumplings.
But, the surprise of the meal, though was an appetizer special of steamed rice pancake, ground pork, pork skin, onions, pickled daikon and carrot, basil, lettuce, cucumber and fish sauce. It looked like a deconstructed Banh Mi, minus the baguette and mayonnaise. The hardest part was figuring exactly out how to eat it, but much of that didn't matter once I took a bite of the pork. I didn't care how messy this affair was going to get, everything on the plate, particularly the pate-esque hunk of pork, was delicious and I was going to clear it all. So, we finagled a few overstuffed rolls, that fell apart with every bite.
By the time we left, I had managed to drown a craptastic day in a giant bowl of Pho and fish sauce. Mai and her staff at Saigon are definitely serving up the cures to what may ail you and it's more than worth the trip out Forest Ave. to pay them a visit.