There’s a new food hall on NE Glisan, serving sambusas, bottles of beer, tlayudas, and mini key lime pies. Rocket Empire Machine, from the group behind restaurant hubs like the Zipper and the Ocean, has opened in Montavilla, with a handful of tiny restaurants serving takeout food and beer.
Rocket Empire Machine, like the Zipper, consists of tiny, mini-restaurant spaces with shared indoor and outdoor seating. For now, the seating is on hold — the building is sticking to takeout — but the food hall does house a taproom, courtesy of Portland’s Gigantic Brewing, as well as four separate restaurants: Alleamin African Kitchen, a Somali and Ethiopian restaurant serving plates of chicken and rice; Tierra Del Sol, the new location of the popular Oaxacan food cart; the yet-to-open Sea and River Sushi, a restaurant specializing in sushi and Burmese curry; and The Pie Spot, a mini-pie emporium with a location in Guerrilla’s other building, the Ocean.
Anna Mackay, the project developer for Rocket Empire Machine, said that part of what was exciting about the Rocket Empire Machine development was with how it tried to fight gentrification as a new development, actively trying to lower overhead costs for tenants and seek out a group of restaurant owners reflective of the neighborhood: Many of the tenants are local to Montavilla, and the specific model of the food cart pod allowed a lower barrier of entry for some tenants, not having to pay for renovations or manage the extra square footage of other restaurant spaces. “To me, the heart of the project was the way to prioritize representation in the community by the kinds of the folk that are in the community, and creating opportunity that didn’t necessarily require the kind of capital that a lot of brick and mortar restaurants require,” Mackay said. “They could plug their equipment in, plug their square in, and go.”
Alleamin African Kitchen
Years ago, Khadro Abdi ran a restaurant down the street by the same name. She served big platters of chicken and rice alongside cups of shaah, Somali tea with cardamom and cinnamon. After her landlord raised the rent, Abdi closed the restaurant, and focused on a line of Somali sauces. Now, Alleamin is back on Glisan, serving the same chicken and rice in Rocket Empire Machine. The menu also includes Ethiopian and Somali dishes like sambusas, soor (Somali grits), the Somali flatbread muufo, and an array of rotating stews and sauces. “It started as a hobby, to make food,” Abdi says. “Now, I just want to share it with other people.”
Tierra Del Sol
For five years, Amalia Sierra, a social worker turned chef specializing in Oaxacan tlayudas and moles, has run her destination cart, Tierra del Sol, at the Portland Mercado, a food cart pod in Foster-Powell. Now, she’s opened her second location in Montavilla, serving the same tetelas, tlayudas, and moles. But down the line, Sierra wants to do even more within the restaurant, like the thinly sliced beef dish tasajo, Oaxacan tamales wrapped in banana leaves, and potential mole negro. “I want to do new things here, because I have more space,” Sierra says. For now, the newest item on the menu are her picaditas, a thick, small tortilla filled with things like salsa and cheese; Sierra grew up eating picaditas as a kid, so they add a nostalgic touch to the menu. The restaurant’s vibrant mole amarillo and pipian have found a home at Rocket Empire Machine, as well; both are must-orders.
Gigantic co-owner Ben Love lives mere blocks from the new Gigantic taproom at Rocket Empire Machine, which is now selling to-go bottles, cases, and kegs of the IPAs that made them famous, including plenty of summery hazy IPAs. Down the line, the “robot room,” as owners Love and Van Havig call it, will serve more as a traditional taproom, with blue booths, communal tables, and barstools, as well as framed robot paintings on the walls and a taxidermy duck behind the bar. For now, the bar is an ordering station, but it’s something to behold, colorfully lined with Gigantic beer labels.
The Pie Spot
This coffee shop and bakery is known for its mini-pies, little bite-sized pastries with fillings like brown butter pecan, key lime, and banana cream with salted caramel. The walk-up window at Rocket Empire Machine has the same menu of mini pies, as well as a full barista setup for coffee drinks, breakfast sandwiches, and more.
Sea and River Sushi
Not quite open yet, Sea and River Sushi will be unlike any sushi restaurant in Portland: Alongside the standard sushi rolls, Sea and River Sushi will also serve Burmese curries. Owner Sonder Sin is a first-time restaurant owner, starting with takeout and delivery as soon as the permits come through.
Rocket Empire Machine is located at 6935 NE Glisan.