Welcome to Dining Confidential, a monthly column in which local chefs talk about their favorite places in Portland, highlighting their own restaurant’s ethos, sharing fun personal takes, and fostering a community spirit. Know of a chef you’d like to see featured? Let us know via our tip line.
Brad Dodson was cooking at a Michelin-starred restaurant when he realized something was missing. He started out his career at restaurants like Beast and Le Pigeon, before moving to the Village Pub in the Bay Area. “I was making a lot of really beautiful French and Italian food, but it didn’t really speak to me and the flavors that I liked,” he says. “I didn’t really know why that was, until I started exploring my ancestry and Portuguese food.”
Dodson is the chef and owner of Bolo, the recently-opened cart in the Bantu Island pod on Northeast Alberta. Dodson’s speciality are Portuguese sweet muffins called bolo levedo, which he uses as a vehicle for a spicy fried chicken sandwich with cilantro, a fried deviled egg sandwich, and a burger packed with pineapple, onion, and spices that’s reminiscent of a meatloaf sandwich. The muffins also transform into doughnuts when tossed in sugar and filled (pumpkin spice was a recent offering), or stand alone as accompaniments to offerings like fish soup or delicata squash. We caught up with Dodson to talk about what led him to bring his sweet-and-savory Portuguese American sandwiches to Portland, and ask him about some of his favorite dishes around town, from burgers to seafood.
Eater: Is Bolo, like, the only Portuguese restaurant in Portland?
Brad Dodson: I think so. My ancestors moved to Eastern Oregon in the mid-1800s. I grew up there and moved to Portland as a young cook. When the pandemic hit, I was out of a job, and I started making bolo levedos out of my kitchen window and handing them out to people. Then I started having people Venmo me…
I feel like a lot of our favorite places have started that way recently. What’s the deal with the bolo? It looks kind of like an English muffin.
Totally, that’s how I would describe it to someone who’s never had them before. They’re from this little island, San Miguel, in the Azores, and it’s a very geothermal place, so they used to make them on a cast iron that was set on a hot volcanic vent. I just went there recently and that’s still where they’re found. They’re everywhere, and you can put anything on them. They’re soft, squishy, almost like a brioche dough, with eggs, butter, and sugar in it. Slightly sweet, a really nice vehicle for just about anything.
Including burgers! I saw on Instagram that you recently had a burger at Claudia’s. What are some of your other favorite burgers around town, other than your own?
I get tired of eating my own food. I really love a classic Portland dive, you know? Old beer memorabilia, a cheap pint, nothing too fancy. The classic drive-in style burger, LTO, pickles, secret sauce, ideally some American cheese, a fluffy bun that gets soggy by the time you’re done. Not a bistro burger, I don’t want a steak knife through it.
Like a crisp, cold sandwich, and the patty is the only warm element?
Yes, totally, definitely. The Lay Low Tavern burger on Mondays is five dollars and it’s just, like, everything I want in a burger. I love Tulip Shop Tavern, it’s great — great people. I do love the burger at Claudia’s. The place is nothing fancy, but it’s always quiet. Having a beer and a burger by myself is my church.
What about a favorite date night?
I really had a great experience at Normandie recently. The vibe was great, and the food was really fantastic. I had some seared albacore tuna. Lazy Susan is just outrageously good, probably my favorite restaurant in town. I really love the whitefish spread with fried saltines, and any time they do a grilled fish dish, like the grilled mackerel. It’s also really fun to do a double-date at an old-school place like Clyde’s Prime Rib. Chungdam Korean Fusion on Powell, they have an incredible mackerel dish there and it’s fun to go to.
What else are you into right now?
I prefer a casual environment with high-end techniques. Food, comfort food, that’s just good. I wanna go to a place where I feel comfortable in my skin and get warm service.
If anything has any kind of sterility, I’m outta there.
Dark, cozy, maybe a couple candles, that’s the vibe I’m looking for. Lay Low hits both, both the burger and the aesthetic for me.
I love Rangoon Bistro; I think they’re so nice, so friendly, that’s my favorite place to go with the kiddo. They acknowledge her and bring her out a plate of rice right away. Super unpretentious.
If I could revert to Being Baby, I would be raised on the Rangoon Bistro coconut milk. I feel like my life would be so much better.
Absolutely. I would be a better person.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.