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Micro Restaurants In Portland

Sick of waiting for food carts? Go to the micro restaurants!

Cecelia Eddie

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Portland is nationally recognized for its food carts, selling everything from artisanal grilled cheese, sushi burritos, and Scandinavian soul food. Portland is also known for interesting, unique gourmet restaurants, such as Le Pigeon and Castagna, recipients of 4 and 5 star reviews on TripAdvisor and Yelp. Yet, Portland plays host to an interesting option in-between: the micro restaurant. With a full kitchen and plumbing, they have all the amenities of a full size restaurant, with less of the operation cost. Food carts tend to lose business in the winter due to Portland’s chilly temperatures and lack of indoor seating, so a few inside tables allow them to stay open year round. It is also a safe space for chefs to try out new ideas without the risk of going bankrupt owning a full restaurant space.
The first example of a micro restaurant is 24th and Meatballs, which opened on Glisan in 2013. Whatever the dish, polenta, spaghetti or panini, the focus is always on meatballs. “Waffle Balls,” a bowl of deep fried balls of waffle batter served with an array of different dipping sauces, was the only dish that strayed from the iconic meatballs, but is no longer available.
The 24th and Meatballs was the first of the Ocean mini-restaurant complex, a collection of restaurants serving tacos, vegan Indian food, and burgers, joined by a communal outdoor seating area. It is conveniently located on a bike route, making it easily accessible to commuters. The idea first came to developer Adam Berger in 2012 as a cart pod with a full bathroom, but it soon developed into its current incarnation. The next restaurant to open was Uno Más, a taqueria offering mini tacos stuffed with everything from classic carnitas to cactus and mushrooms and prawns with chiles. And then came Slowburger, a typical burger joint with classic hamburgers and onion rings and some more unique meats like catfish. The most recent restaurant to join the group was The Sudra, which takes a twist on normal Indian food by offering all vegan options, something that attracts a lot of business in an environmentally-conscious city like Portland.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai is yet another micro restaurant in Portland, specializing in one-dish chicken, rice and broth soup, with cucumbers and sauce. The restaurant has been an enormous success in Portland, with two carts and a brick and mortar restaurant in southeast. The founder, Nong Poonsukwattana, moved to the United States in 2003 from Thailand with hopes of a better life, not knowing that she would soon become one of Portland’s most celebrated chefs.

I recently had the opportunity to speak with Nong about the rising micro restaurant industry in Portland.

What do you think some of the advantages and disadvantages are of a micro restaurant versus a cart or full size restaurant?
The advantages of a micro restaurant is cheaper rent. The disadvantages of a micro restaurant is a smaller capacity which could mean smaller revenue.

 

Did you come to Portland with the hope of opening a restaurant or did you just stumble upon it?
When I first came to Portland, I did not hope to open a restaurant. I was just hoping for a better life than Thailand where I came from. But I always dreamed of owning my own business. Later in in the journey in the USA, I decided that owning a restaurant has potential for me to make it. And that’s when I started.

What is your overall opinion on the micro restaurant industry in Portland?
Personally, I like it. It’s similar to food courts in Thailand. It’s casual and there’s many choices for customers.

Have you heard of anything similar to your restaurant across the country or do you think it’s a concept unique to Portland?
I think BBQ restaurants are similar to what I do. Specialize in few things.

Do you have any plans to expand to other cities? If so, where?
Yes but I’m not ready at the moment.

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Micro Restaurants In Portland