Keeping a food business alive in 2020 is a distinct challenge: Transforming a business to a takeout-friendly model, buying the necessarily equipment to keep things safe and sanitary on an already-low budget, and running a business with a fraction of the usual take-home pay makes the simple act of staying afloat a feat.
Business owners who are opening a restaurant, however, deal with all the above challenges, without the name recognition. Many business owners opened restaurants out of necessity this year — the leases signed still exist, and the summer festivals pop-ups rely on do not. However, these restaurants and food carts opening against all odds are still offering exceptional comfort foods, takeout dinners, and family meals, masked-up and cooking on. These are just a few of the new restaurants worth knowing in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic.
A food cart in Southeast Portland, Nacheaux chef Anthony Brown has created a distinct, supreme comfort food, pulling inspiration from Cajun, Mexican, and old-school Americana to create otherworldly dishes like fried chicken burritos and crawfish-filled sopes. However, Nacheaux’s five-cheese macaroni and cheese — add-ons like carnitas and catfish optional — fits that sort of platonic ideal of elbows in a not-too-thick-or-thin sauce.
Where it is: Within the Cartlandia pod, 8145 SE 82nd Avenue.
Takeout, delivery, dine-in? Takeout and delivery through DoorDash, plus food cart pod seating
Learn more: Nacheaux Food Cart [Instagram]
On paper, Cafe Rowan sounds like any other cafe — toasts, granola with yogurt, coffee, breakfast sandwiches. In person, the cafe is serving meticulous versions of breakfast standbys — the avocado toast comes with curls of watermelon radish, the bacon-egg-and-cheese gets a little sweetness from blueberry jam, and the granola and yogurt also comes with rosewater and matcha powder.
Where it is: 4437 SE 39th Avenue
Takeout, delivery, dine-in? Takeout, dine-in, and curbside pickup
Learn more: Cafe Rowan [Official]
This new West African food cart off MLK not only offers killer versions of standbys — mafe yapp (Senegalese meat and peanut stew), chicken brochette, dibi. But Kabba’s one of Portland’s only spots that serves fataya, Senegalese fried meat pies fragrant with cumin.
Where it is: 3625 NE Martin Luther King Jr Blvd
Takeout, delivery, dine-in? Takeout
Learn more: Kabba’s Kitchen [Official]
From the team behind Bullard, Holler is the more relaxed cousin — fried chicken by the bucket, family packs of burgers, tater tots and pints of ice cream. That fried chicken is still the version that made chef Doug Adams famous, brined and dunked in buttermilk before it hits the fryer.
Where it is: 7119 SE Milwaukie Avenue
Takeout, delivery, dine-in? Takeout
Learn more: Holler [Official]
Chef Diane Lam of the shuttered Revelry and David Sigal of the celebrated Chinese pop-up series Mian have made their new pop-up concept semi-permanent. Sunshine Noodles has moved into the kitchen at the homey Psychic Bar on Mississippi Avenue, where diners can pick up lunch to go Thursday through Saturday. The silky egg noodles are the star of the show, especially the Phnom Penh noodles with Chinese greens and slices of pork in a rich pork broth, but dishes like the potato chip salad and Cambodian kampot lime pepper wings bring some much-needed fun to dining in 2020.
Where it is: 3560 N Mississippi Avenue
Takeout, delivery, dine-in? Takeout, limited outdoor seating
Learn more: Sunshine Noodles [Official]
A Japanese cafe from Ryan and Elena Roadhouse — the team behind next door’s omakase, Nodoguro — Tonari was originally slated to transition to a bar in the evenings. The pandemic means that Tonari instead operates at limited hours, selling its onigiri, saba caesar salads, yellowtail sashimi, and tofu stamina shakes for takeout only. There’s also an option for a daily rotating teishoku set, a set meal that involves a choice of mains plus daily sides and rices.
Where it is: 2838 SE Belmont Street
Takeout, delivery, dine-in? Takeout
Learn more: Tonari [Official]
When the star-studded team behind Lazy Susan began planning the restaurant, they had intended to create something reminiscent of a polished 20th-Century-family-friendly chain, with steaks and shrimp cocktail and pork chops. But when COVID-19 hit, the team pivoted into something closer to a backyard cookout, with grilled meats, potato salad, and seasonal vegetable sides. The restaurant is temporarily closed while its co-owners take care of their new baby, but once Lazy Susan comes back later this month, it’ll ruin you for other cookouts.
Where it is: 7937 SE Stark Street
Takeout, delivery, dine-in? Takeout, when open. Some sidewalk seating.
Learn more: The Star-Studded and Highly Anticipated Lazy Susan Is Serving Cookout Lunches Four Days a Week [EPDX]
At this Kerns Italian spot, executive chef Sedona McCaffrey-Allen makes inexpensive and handmade pastas, tossed with everything from beef-and-pork bolognese to basil and mint pesto. But the restaurants’ house-made gelatos and sorbettos, outdoor seating, and grab-and-go market set Montelupo apart.
Where it is: 344 NE 28th Avenue
Takeout, delivery, dine-in? All three; delivery is available through Caviar, DoorDash, GrubHub, and Postmates
Learn more: Montelupo [Official]
Ko Sisters Seoul Food
This Korean food cart has plenty of standards, like bibimbap, bulgogi, and Korean fried chicken; however, perhaps most excitingly, Ko Sisters dives into street food skewers that are harder to find at Portland’s Korean restaurants, like fish cakes and Korean corn dogs.
Where it is: Within the Cartside food cart pod, 1825 N Williams Avenue.
Takeout, delivery, dine-in? Takeout, outdoor onsite dining
Learn more: Ko Sisters [Official]
Taquería Los Puñales
A taco shop from a third generation taquero, Taquería Los Puñales’ aesthetic is a celebration of queer and Mexican cultures. Its tacos are mostly made with guisados —stewed meats like mole-braised chicken, adobo-marinated grilled pork loin, or beef slow braised with chiles. There are also vegetarian and vegan options, sides, breakfast tacos, and agua frescas.
Where it is: 3312 SE Belmont Street
Takeout, delivery, dine-in? Dine-in, takeout
Learn more: Taquería Los Puñales [Official]
A Sicilian cafe in Montavilla, the mom-and-pop-owned shop Sebastiano’s is open for takeout and private happy hours out on the back patio. Diners can find a variety of muffalettas, salads, and desserts for takeout plus cheeses, olives, deli meats, and pantry staples like pasta, pesto, and tomato sauce.
Where it is: 411 SE 81st Avenue.
Takeout, Delivery, Dine-in? Takeout and reserved patio dining
Learn more: Sebastiano’s [Official]
Miami Nice’s chef and owner Valerie Espinoza didn’t originally intend to open a restaurant for her vegan Cuban food, and instead planned on hosting a variety of pop-ups. However the pandemic more or less forced her hand, which is good for everyone who wants to get their hands on some of her plant-based takes on Miami Cuban staples — a Cubano is made with slow-roasted jackfruit and a “ham” made in-house, plus vegan cheese and pickles; empanadas are made with soy picadillo; and even the flan is vegan.
Where it is: 2137 E Burnside Street
Takeout, delivery, dine-in? Takeout, outdoor seating
Learn more: Miami Nice [Official]