Feasting in Portland’s Jade District

NashCO Photography,  Photographer
November 8, 2016 (Updated October 19, 2020)
Photography by NashCO Photo
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Editor’s note: Call destinations before you visit to make sure they’re open. Stay posted on what Oregon’s phased reopening means for you. And remember to bring your face covering, required for all of Oregon’s public indoor spaces and outdoors when keeping 6 feet of distance isn’t possible. Before you set out, check road and weather conditions and check travel alerts to make sure it’s safe to be outdoors amidst smoke and wildfire conditions.

In his commencement speech at Portland State University in 1998, President Bill Clinton addressed the contributions of immigrants to American culture: “Bearing different memories, honoring different heritages, [immigrants] have strengthened our economy, enriched our culture, renewed our promise of freedom and opportunity for all.” Clinton’s portrait of America seems most resonant in Portland’s Jade District, the area surrounding Southeast 82nd Avenue and Division Street, where a vibrant community of immigrants and people of color have found a stable foothold.

While the Jade District was officially designated by the city in 2011, its relatively large concentration of Asian, Latinx, Black, and Slavic residents and businesses reflects historical booms and busts that are a century old. Like many others before them, these communities have carved out spaces for themselves and their children by establishing diverse businesses, religious centers and recreational areas. And in such a cultural enclave, a restaurant isn’t just a restaurant — it’s a refuge, a community hub, that rare place where your grandfather can pronounce everything on the menu.

(Pictured: Ocean City)
 

Meianna Bakery

Tucked away in the Fubonn Shopping Center is Meianna Bakery, a pastry paradise where the tart crusts are always flaky and the buns never skimp on the barbecued pork. The pastries, cakes and breads that glimmer on its shelves are gorgeous amalgams of French, Japanese and Hong Kongese cuisine. Try a soft Swiss roll and take home a loaf of pork floss bread for tomorrow’s breakfast. It’s easy to take your treats to go, straight from the glass case. 

Ocean City

For many Chinese Americans, celebrations — weddings, birthdays, anniversaries — happen at dim sum restaurants like Ocean City Seafood Restaurant, where the gilded gold-and-white decor gives off that special-occasion vibe. It’s easy to spend maybe a bit too much time here, sipping tea and watching the family dramas play out while you wait to digest enough of your meal to justify ordering the sesame balls for dessert. The elegant setting is part of the experience, but you’re welcome to call ahead and order your dim sum to go for a special family meal at home — it will be just as tasty. 

Mojo Crepes

If you’re a kid in the Jade District, the bright and unfussy Mojo Crepes is the place to be, with its pool tables, board games and plentiful seating. It also doesn’t hurt that the hot dogs and crepes, modeled after Japanese street cuisine, are unique and absolutely crave-worthy. You can order one of the enormous, conical crepes filled with whatever suits your mood, be it green tea ice cream, matcha or fresh mango. Crepes are the perfect eat-on-the go snack; order a variety for the family and enjoy your new favorite street food at Mt. Tabor Park or Kelly Butte Natural Area, both just a few minutes away.

Hà VL

You haven’t really felt heartbreak until you’ve tried to get to the James Beard Award-nominated Hà VL (2738 S.E. 82nd Ave., #102) on a Thursday afternoon after they’ve sold out of their famous snail soup. Along with a tasty selection of banh mi sandwiches, this family-owned shop runs two daily soup specials that will knock the socks off of anyone who thinks pho is the be-all, end-all of Vietnamese noodle soups. Come early for the best selection, or call ahead for takeout here or from Rose VL, its sister restaurant about a mile west, with its own incredible lineup of Vietnamese soups

Good Neighbor

Even if you don’t read Cyrillic, you can still learn a lot by wandering through the aisles of the Good Neighbor grocery store, which has become an essential cultural center for the Russian-speaking community in East Portland. Grab some fresh-made rye bread, fruit, pickles, smoked fish, farmer’s cheese and sausage to make a picnic spread. The potato pirozhki also make a decadent snack. There is no market site for online shopping, which means an in-person visit will be extra special.

About The
Author

Soleil Ho
Soleil Ho is a chef, food writer and podcaster. She co-hosts Racist Sandwich, a biweekly podcast about food’s intersections with race, gender and class.

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