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On Sunday mornings, crowds line up outside Richard and Sophia Le’s Vietnamese American food cart Matta for its perpetually popular breakfast sandwich, with its sweet pandan bun and smashed pork patty. But Matta is more than that one sandwich.
“While we love that breakfast sandwich, we don’t want to just be known for our breakfast sandwich,” Richard Le says. “Let’s show everybody what else we do. Let’s really curate how people experience Matta.”
This year, the couple is trying to focus on other facets of their cart — their collaborations, their pastries. That includes a partnership with Deadstock Coffee, running the pastry program on select dates to showcase items like pandan doughnuts. For them, Matta is such a personal project, it feels important to emphasize the totality of what they’re doing.
“The whole goal is to share Vietnamese American identity, the emotions,” Richard Le says. “Channeling my auntie through braised pork belly, my mom through her shrimp omelet. Tapping into what makes me feel 10 years old, going to McDonald’s with my mom, getting a sausage muffin and throwing the hash brown inside. If you want people to feel some type of connection, you’ve got to share memories and be vulnerable.”
The couple met with Eater at Portland Cá Phê’s Southeast Holgate location to chat about their buddies in the industry and their favorite things to eat in their neighborhood, from DIY whole catfish to spicy breakfast burritos. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Eater: Are there places that you consider your siblings in the Portland community?
Richard Le: Us and Deadstock are really fucking tight. We hang out with (owner Ian Williams) all the time. We align very heavily, not just on food, but our ideologies and personalities mesh really well. How we interpret the city is very similar.
We’re sitting in Portland Cá Phê right now, we come here all the time. We’ve known (owner Kimberly Dam) before she even decided to have this place. Now we’re sitting in her cafe. Now she has a second cafe. This is really cool, you know, to be part of this community where we’re very fortunate to have a lot of dope peers around us.
What are your go-to orders here?
Sophia Le: The coconut latte. Every time I say I’m gonna order something else, I’m like… “but it’s so good.”
RL: I normally get the cá phê sua da — old school, traditional stuff. But sometimes I’ll order a lychee lemonade with a couple shots of espresso.
SL: He’s notorious for ordering the weirdest things. And the staff is like, “Oh, here we go again, what do you want?”
RL: The only reason I even have an association with citrus and coffee is because of the LeBronald Palmer at Deadstock. Lemonade and coffee? That’s crazy, I would have never thought of that.
What about the places that you guys like to go on your days off?
RL: Miss Saigon on SE 92nd and Division. They have this salad with a bunch of herbs and greens and beef and really good fish sauce and Thai chiles. It’s just a whole medley of fun flavors.
SL: The lady’s so fun. They do karaoke sometimes, and it gets so loud in there.
RL: It’s such a vibe. For Chinese food, Powell Seafood on 67th and Powell. We get the salt and pepper spare ribs there. They braise them and fry ‘em and toss ‘em in garlic and chili. They also have a soft tofu with shrimp and ground pork and asparagus. You put that over like a bowl of rice? You’re in heaven.
We also go to Teo Bún Bò Huê for their spicy beef noodle soup. The sleeper is the chicken pho. They use a gà di bô, the walking chicken. The meat tends to be on the leaner side, it’s an active chicken and not as plump, but that meat tastes the best.
SL: The winning part of the dish — it comes with a ginger dipping sauce, so you dip the chicken from the pho in it.
RL: We also go to Bún Bò Huê Restaurant on 82nd, a little past Woodstock. An indicator of a good spot, for me, is when you walk in and they have a tiny TV playing loud-ass Vietnamese soap operas. I’m like, “ah, this place is the real deal.”
SL: Sometimes it’s just one lady, and it’s an open kitchen. So you watch her make it all. She does it all.
RL: Habanero Burrito is really dope, the chef hand-makes the tortillas.
SL: It was hard to find that here. Coming from San Jose, Mexican food has to stand out a little, so when a place hand-makes their tortillas, you’re like, “Oh, I have to go there.”
RL: The habanero salsa that he makes is the one. It makes you sweat, but it’s so flavorful.
We go to Pho Van 82nd and order a whole catfish ahead and make salad rolls with it. You can order different sizes for different groups of people, and they’ll help you navigate that.
SL: They just ask that you call ahead because it takes like thirty minutes to fry the fish. But then they give you everything, all the herbs, all the sauces, the rice paper with water and you just sit down and start making your rice rolls.
RL: It’s a great communal meal. Sometimes you don’t want to cook at home, but you want to have a nice family meal.