Chef Picks

Chef Nong Poonsukwattana’s 11 Favorite Portland Restaurants on Caviar

The chef featured on Netflix’s “Somebody Feed Phil” shares where she goes to get fed.

14 min read
7/1/2022
chefs picks

Nong Poonsukwattana is the charismatic chef and founder of Nong’s Khao Man Gai, which serves Portland’s favorite Bangkok-style chicken and rice. In 2003 she came to America without much money or cooking experience, but soon joined the original Pok Pok as a line cook. She later opened a food cart specializing in her soon-to-be iconic chicken and rice, which led to two brick-and-mortar locations and a catering business. When she’s not overseeing her mini culinary empire, she’s ordering from her favorite Portland restaurants on Caviar. 

Bao Bao - steamed dumpling

Bao Bao

Even if you serve the most comforting chicken and rice in town, as Nong does, you’re still going to seek out the comfort of handmade steamed bao and dumplings from time to time. This food cart-cum-restaurant serves some of the city’s best hot buns, available to mix and match in five different flavors, including curry chicken and spicy tofu.

Por Que No Taqueria

Bryan Steelman’s Por Que No Taqueria, open since 2005, has a dozen tacos for every appetite at its two locations. They have all the classics, like barbacoa and al pastor, all sustainably sourced. Taste of Home recently named them the best Mexican restaurant in the state, and management supports local charities. “My son loves bean and rice from Por Que No," Nong says. 

FoMo Chicken - southern fried chicken wings

FoMo Chicken

Seeing that Nong came up at Pok Pok, which was famous for their sweet-spicy wings, you have to respect her fried chicken choices. Indeed, Mashed.com named FoMo the best fried chicken in all of Oregon in 2021, a big honor for the seemingly modest five-year-old food cart. Here, you can choose between Korean fried chicken (Sweet Garlic or Spicy) and Southern fried chicken (which happens to be gluten-free) – or get both. Your fried chicken options don’t end there. Once you decide on your chicken flavoring, you get to choose between wings, strips, sandwich, or Boneless Fried Chicken Boxes. 

Guero

Everyone likes a good sandwich, but this is a sandwich, or rather, a torta, to love. Go for the ahogada, Guero’s version of the Jaliscan classic made with Carlton Farms pork, habañero-flecked coleslaw, and cilantro on grilled bolillo, which is like a Mexican baguette. It comes with achiote tomato sauce that’s meant for dunking —  a messy, spicy experience best enjoyed at home, with plenty of napkins at the ready. 

Kim Jong Grillin - bulgogi bibimbox

Kim Jong Grillin

People like to throw around the word “legend,” but chef Han Ly Hwang has earned that moniker. For more than a decade, he and his Kim Jong Grillin food cart team have been crafting dishes with authentic Korean flavors. His Bibim Box – billed as the PDX’s favorite hangover food – is widely popular, and you don’t need to be hungover to enjoy it! Like most everything else here, the kimchi is housemade, which is why we recommend that the uber-umami kimchi fried rice be added to cart as well. 

AFURI IZAKAYA 

Sibling to the original Tokyo location, Afuri Izakaya opened its first international location in Portland because of the water: Mount Hood spring water is soft, just like the water that comes from Mount Afuri, something that’s essential to the taste and texture of the homemade ramen noodles, best experienced in their signature yuzu ramen. 

afuri ramen - tori paitan

AFURI ramen + dumpling 

You’ll find the signature yuzu ramen on the menu at Afuri Izakaya’s sister spot, with the added bonus of juicy dumplings – and so much more. This menu was made for grazing, so you’ll want to order a variety of dishes. Our picks? The soft-shell crab bun, crispy panko-crusted ramen egg, and crispy, garlicky pork gyoza, followed by an order of that bracing yuzu shoyu ramen. You can double down on the floral citrusy flavor of yuzu with an order of yuzu limeade, or snag a can of delicate junmai sake. 

Phat Cart

Another spot that started out as a cart, Phat Cart is now a brick-and-mortar operation that serves the same quality fare, albeit with expanded capabilities. The bento bowls — such as orange chicken with sautéed zucchini over rice — are a perennial favorite, although we’re also partial to the Mr. Miyagi sandwich (crispy chicken with romaine, avocado, fresh tomato, and lime aioli). We think you will be, too. 

Rose VL Deli - wonton noodle

Rose VL Deli

Christina and William Vuoung — Vietnam natives, longtime Portland restaurateurs, and owners of the iconic Ha VL — opened this sister spot seven years ago. There are two daily soup specials, all deeply flavorful (the wonton noodle soup will quite possibly ruin you for all other wonton soups forever — get it anyway). Boba teas (eight kinds), salad rolls (aka summer spring roll), and fresh smoothies (including durian!) round out the menu.

Tight Tacos - quesataco

Tight Tacos

It’s hard to live up to a confident name like “tight tacos,” but Tight Tacos does. The tacos and quesatacos (exactly what you’d imagine — a taco fried up like a quesadilla) are made with homemade tortillas and have amassed a loyal following. Beyond tacos, the Hellarito more than holds its own, with a protein (such as carnitas, seared steak, or cauliflower) in flour tortilla with nacho cheese, crema, onions, cilantro, and house-cut fries. 

Tous Les Jours

Tous Les Jours means “every day” in French, and every day here an array of sweet and savory French-Asian-inspired breads, cakes, and pastries are made fresh. We’re talking red bean doughnuts, milk bread, and strawberry croissants. Clearly, you’re going to want to make this shop part of your daily routine, whether you need to power up in the morning or quell an afternoon sweet tooth. Chef Nong loves the curry croquette and notes that “their cake is a must for a kid’s birthday." Layer cakes come in chocolate, cream, peach, and green tea. 

Author

Caroline Potter

Use the code SPOTLIGHT10 for $10 off your first order of $30 or more.