International Feast: Finding foodie treasures in the southwest suburbs
written by Sheila G. Miller | photography by Carly Diaz
In some cities, the word “suburbs” evokes images of Red Lobster, Cracker Barrel and The Olive Garden. Then there are the suburbs of Portland. That’s right—the city known for being so foodie-friendly has plenty of neighbors making names for themselves, as well. You can travel the world in the southwest suburbs of Portland. Hit up Thailand, Korea and El Salvador in Beaverton. Visit Japan, Mexico and Vietnam in Hillsboro. From Aloha to Tigard to Forest Grove, there’s no shortage of delicious international restaurants waiting—so we made a weekend of it.
BANH MI • GROCERIES • NOODLES
I grew up in Beaverton, though it has certainly morphed into a new place in the years since I graduated high school. But one of the best things about this city has stayed the same—you can drive right past what looks like a nondescript shopping plaza for years before stopping in and discovering the treasures that await.
This happened to me with The Best Baguette. I often stopped in at Hall Street Bar & Grill (RIP) for the happy hour when I visited the area. Little did I know, just yards away were several Asian restaurants filled with delightful flavors. Chief among them is The Best Baguette, a haven of freshly baked bread and banh mis like you’ve never tasted in the United States. My husband and I split a Best Baguette Special, only later learning the sandwich contained pâté, ham, pork roll and head cheese. When we got the sandwich and a bubble tea, we worried the sandwich would be hard—but the crusty outside of the baguette gave way to a warm, soft inside with flavors that mixed perfectly together.
Right next door was Pho King Good, a delicious and equally unassuming pho restaurant that has one of those huge numbered menus. You just can’t go wrong with a steaming bowl of spicy pho here. In the heart of Beaverton are two Asian grocery stores that are the kind you can just wander through for hours. First, Uwajimaya, the giant Asian grocer from Seattle, has had an outpost on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway since 1998. Inside is a huge selection of hot foods, meat, fruits and vegetables I’d never seen before, and frozen and packaged food you can’t get outside big cities or, well, Asia. On my list was a pile of Spam musubi, that popular Hawaiian snack made from grilled Spam perched on a block of rice and wrapped with nori. Sometimes it has a sweet sauce and some egg inside–either way, Uwajimaya’s was excellent and I convinced several family members to eat Spam, which is more exciting than it sounds.
Next on my list was Beard Papa cream puffs. These Japanese treats have a storefront inside the grocery store. Finally, I have it on good authority that Ramen Ryoma, also tucked inside the massive grocery store, is one of the best ramen spots anywhere in Oregon. Start with a base—miso (fermented bean paste), shio (salt) or shiyu (soy sauce)—and go from there.
If Uwajimaya doesn’t leave you sated, head to the newest Asian grocery in town, 99 Ranch Market. It’s ten minutes away and feels a lot different. What it lacks in polish it makes up for in extensive offerings. There’s a huge spice section, dozens of types of noodles, and a huge frozen foods section. My parents, who lived in Japan before I was born, were thrilled by several finds, including fresh ox tail, which my mom made plans to use in soup.
You can keep hitting up epic Asian restaurants in Beaverton for days—Din Tai Fung is expected to open its first Oregon location in the Washington Square Mall. The restaurant, which started in Taiwan, has a cultlike following and a dozen U.S. locations. It’s slated to open sometime in late 2018, bringing steamed buns, noodles and renewed life to the mall of my youth. Or swing to Du Kuh Bee in downtown Beaverton for pulled noodles, Yuzu for legit ramen and great sushi in yet another unassuming strip mall near Beaverton Town Square, or DJK nearby for Korean barbecue. Full yet? You’re going to need to get out for a little exercise to work off the never-ending noodle parade. There are plenty of trails to hit around the area, including at Tualatin Hills Nature Park and Hyland Forest Park.
LUNCH BUFFETS • “WILD SIDE” • PUPUSAS
If Day One was an exploration of all foods Asian, Day Two can be more of the same or a dip into other territories. For example, there are two excellent Indian restaurants in the near southwest suburbs, both with excellent and low-price buffets. Chennai Masala, in Hillsboro, gets the most attention for its $10 lunch buffet. In Beaverton, Abhiruchi South & North Indian Cuisine’s lunch buffet is a couple bucks more expensive but equally hearty.
I didn’t think Hillsboro would have much to offer in the realm of Japanese food, but I was thrilled to nd out I was wrong. Syun Izakaya, tucked in the basement of an old library, has beautiful rolls, a large sake menu and tempura ice cream. If it’s Chinese food you’re after, Taste of Sichuan is your spot. It may look like a standard Americanized Chinese restaurant, but you’ll be impressed by the restaurant’s “Wild Side” menu, which seeks to introduce visitors to more eclectic foods like swimming fire fish, sichuan bean jelly and rabbit chunks in red chili sauce.
Heading a bit closer to culinary home, there is some excellent Central American food in the area as well. Sabor Salvadoreno, in Beaverton, is a low-key rice and beans spot with some spectacular pupusas. Or try Gloria’s Secret Cafe, a hole-in-the-wall joint in downtown Beaverton with Salvadoran food like pupusas and other Latin American fare such as paella, tacos and mole. The taco truck experience in the southwest suburbs is easy to achieve on most major streets in Beaverton, Aloha, Tigard or Hillsboro.
But a standout is Ochoa’s Lupitas Tacos, with the smothered enchiladas and over owing tortas of your dreams. Out in Hillsboro, Amelia’s has two locations, a classy, colorful vibe and a $5 happy hour margarita that will turn your toes, in a good way. Daily specials change seasonally and there’s even a breakfast menu with chilaquiles and nopales con huevo, a dish that features cactus pads.
Once you’ve had a belly full (literally), zoom through Hillsboro’s quaint downtown and antique shops. Hillsboro has a minor league baseball team, the Hops, whose season runs from June to September, and each summer the city hosts a huge Oregon International Air Show. Year-round, you can go to the Classic Aircraft Aviation Museum and check out restored airplanes. Soon, you’ll be hungry again.
SW Portland, Oregon
The Best Baguette
Gloria’s Secret Cafe
Du Kuh Bee
Hilton Garden Inn
Embassy Suites Hillsboro
Larkspur Landing Hillsboro
99 Ranch Market
Classic Aircraft Aviation Museum