LeChon came to Portland in August 2015 with big aspirations but a slow start. Now one year in, it's settling into its clutch location on Naito Parkway, a block away from Pine Street Market, with a sidewalk patio with views of Waterfront Park across the street. Eater caught up with executive chef Jaco Smith and restaurant manager Charlotte Deyo to see how its eclectic South American dishes have developed.
"Opening the first restaurant on Naito Parkway on the waterfront has been a challenge," says Deyo. "It was extremely hard, with little foot traffic, and nobody knew about LeChon." She says the restaurant had trouble attracting and keeping staff, a nearly ubiquitous problem for Portland restaurants of late. Ultimately, Deyo says LeChon began to get busy after participating in March's Portland Dining Month. "That gave us the momentum we needed."
Now, despite two so-so reviews from the critics, LeChon is gaining a reputation as a crowd-pleaser, if you lend any credence at all to Yelp reviews. The restaurant currently has a 4.5 star rating after more than 230 diner reviews. It's also getting a lot of love from the Portland blogging community.
Though there may have been staffing issues, executive chef Jaco Smith has helmed the kitchen since opening, and he singled out some of his most popular dishes. "Our guests love the grilled octopus from our tapas menu, as well as our both versions of our empanadas and ceviches."
The restaurant's plan to cook ninety percent of its menu over open flames has yet to materialize, but it did come one step closer to fruition with Cocina. The outdoor private events space, adjacent to LeChon, opened this month, promising open-flame cooking. "We will be hosting wine dinners, special events, receptions, private dinners, lunches, and brunches in the space," says Deyo.
LeChon's cocktail program has also continued to develop under Joe Frade, who continues to win major bartending competitions. Frade focuses on fruity cocktails, like the LeChon Margarita, with cardamom syrup, and the Amanecer, combining pisco, St. Germain, lime, passionfruit, soda, and prickly pear.
"It has been an incredible journey so far," says Deyo. "We are excited to see what our second year will bring."