Oregon is home to a lot of restaurants and bars, but there are tons of hidden gems that the majority of Portlanders aren't unearthing. To help guide us to these potential discoveries, we've enlisted some of our city's many food players to share their recommendations for a weekly feature dubbed Dining Confidential.
The first-generation American daughter of Russian immigrants, Bonnie Morales grew up in Chicago and has a unique view on the culture and cuisine of the former Soviet Union. Briefly working for a design consultancy in NYC, Bonnie left product design to pursue a career in food — obtaining a degree at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. After graduating, Bonnie honed her skills in several of New York and Chicago's Michelin-starred restaurants. Bonnie moved to Portland in 2010 to open a restaurant, Kachka, devoted to the cuisine of Russia and former Soviet republics such as Ukraine, Belarus, Georgia, and Uzbekistan. But on particularly dreary mornings, you might find her cuddled up with her family and a kolache at Southeast's Happy Sparrow Cafe.
We love Happy Sparrow Cafe on Belmont. We found it driving by when we lived in that neighborhood: Honestly, we noticed it because we are always looking at what other restaurant owners are doing for ideas, and their very adorable sign was made using a sheet tray. Knowing how expensive signage can get, it stood out as a great way to make a statement on a budget.
Our four-year-old son, just to spite us, refuses to eat pretty much any meat or dairy. The one thing he will eat is the turkey sausage kolache at Happy Sparrow. So this became a regular hangout for lazy family mornings. The Kolaches (a Czech pastry akin to piroshky) are filled with a variety of savory and sweet options. The Texas hot link Kolache is a personal fav. The owners are from Austin — Kolaches are very popular in Texas — and are some of the nicest people you will meet. Their demeanor is so cheery that the dreariest winter days are forgotten the minute you walk in. The clincher for us is that they serve Vietnamese coffee. The café is the first floor of an old house so it's very cozy.