In late 2019, chef Diane Lam started her pop-up, Sunshine Noodles. She served Phnom Penh noodles and turmeric pancakes while bartender David Sigal made cocktails, a lively and boisterous dinner that fit the free-spirited chef. At the time, she was still the chef de cuisine at Revelry, which has since closed; after leaving Revelry, she brought Sunshine Noodles to the patio at North Mississippi bar Psychic, then on hiatus. The new Sunshine was a takeout version of the pop-up, with Vietnamese beef stew (bo kho) and lime pepper chicken wings served in takeout containers on the plant-lined patio. Over time, Psychic reopened, and Lam dramatically changed the food program at the bar, instead focusing on Cambodian fried chicken and rice via her new takeout-and-delivery based restaurant, Prey + Tell.
In the two years between then and now, Lam has grown exponentially as a chef and business woman: running the kitchen at Revelry in the grips of the COVID-19 pandemic, launching her own fried chicken brand, and managing a bar on North Mississippi. Soon, however, she’ll bring back Sunshine Noodles as a restaurant, taking over the former XLB location in Northwest Portland.
Lam didn’t intend to open a Sunshine Noodles restaurant. She was looking for a new Prey + Tell space, hoping to scale up from the tiny kitchen within Psychic. Over the last few years, she developed a friendship with Jasper Shen and Laura Tran at XLB; when they told her they wanted to give up their Northwest Portland location to focus on the Williams restaurant, they offered her the space. It wasn’t until she got there that she realized she wanted to revive Sunshine. “When I stepped into the space, Sunshine was a no-brainer,” she says. “There’s a wok station, there’s a chef counter, there’s all these things that really kind of make it a great spot for a noodle bar.”
As Sunshine settles into the new space, the menu will change often, trying out a variety of styles of noodles. The Phnom Penh noodles will always hold a spot on the menu, though Lam is tinkering with a new preparation of the dish. Lort cha, a classic Cambodian rice noodle dish, will also stick around. But beyond that, Lam wants to rotate in dishes like Vietnamese beef noodle stew, or her take on spaghetti and meatballs. The menu will also involve things that are not noodles: She wants to bring back her turmeric pancake bites from early Sunshine pop-ups, revive the lime pepper wings for a bit, and maybe introduce fish sauce chicken her friends called “chicken candy.” “I had a bunch of friends over, they were all hungry, and I wanted to be able to make food without making a huge mess,” she says. “I fried this chicken to this crispness without a batter, and then tossed this chicken in this sort of fish sauce caramel. I’m still playing around with it.”
The bar is still under development, but Lam wants to serve a variety of scoots, little one-ounce shots of house-infused liquors. “There’s a part of me that wants to have someone go around and people can order them like dim-sum, and then stamp people’s arms, but I don’t know how people will feel about that,” she says. The restaurant will also offer cocktails, beer, and wine.
But even though Sunshine is hopping across the river, Lam wants to retain the pop-up’s “Blade Runner-meets-Hello Kitty” aesthetic, in her words, which naturally fits the former XLB space. “I mean, the tile is pink. When I saw the design of the space, it just made so much sense to adopt it for Sunshine,” she says. “I want to bring in neon accents, so it feels like you’re enveloped in a city alleyway. That’s how I imagine it feeling.”
Sunshine should open December 13 at 2175 NW Raleigh Street, Suite 105.
• Sunshine Noodles [Instagram]
• Noodle Bar Pop-Up Sunshine Noodles Returns, Taking Over the Kitchen at Mississippi Bar Psychic [EPDX]
• Sunshine Noodles Goes Back to Its Pop-Up Roots as Psychic Bar Reopens [EPDX]