STOP ME if you've heard this one: Two veterans, a South Korean piano teacher, and a repurposed 1972 Mobile Scout travel trailer roll into the Rose City Food Park pod and start churning out fine-tuned Japanese chirashi bowls.
Pause Japanese Bistro had a circuitous way of bringing their cuisine to the world. The result is a healthy yet super tasty bowl of goodness—and probably the only chirashi available from a cart in Portland.
Chirashi, which means "scattered" in Japanese, has always been one of the more forgiving and freeform dishes in a country where there's usually strict adherence to traditional recipes. You'll find chirashi at most sushi restaurants around town: fish atop sushi rice, with vegetables, hard-boiled eggs, roe, or whatever else is thrown on top.
Pause Bistro owners—Hyeyeon and Lewis Doyle, and Tony Porches—landed on their concept because chirashi is healthy and quick to fix, and they've drawn on Hyeyeon's skills in Japanese and Korean cooking, both of which she learned from her grandparents.
Pause's chirashi borders on a salad, but has more substance. For $8, you start with white or brown rice (either works, in my experience) and raw or seared ahi tuna (the seared edges out the raw just a smidge). Then comes spinach, lettuce, pickled ginger, and shredded carrots. There are six sauces to top it off, but the winner is the wasabi soy—a blend that slicks the ingredients in a nose-tingling layer of spice. Don't skip the housemade cucumber kimchi, which is $1 extra and also includes a drink.
Pause also offers chicken and tofu Japanese curry, which are fine but lack the depth and heat of other restaurants' versions. Rotating items, including kimchi fried rice, ramen, and the current special, cold buckwheat noodles with vegetables and sauce, are also on hand.
In obligatory Portland form, there's an eye toward sustainability—the tuna is line-caught yellowtail from the Indian Ocean, not the overfished bluefin. Albacore can be subbed in, provided it's in season. The serving window is an old door, and the menu boards lived former lives as kitchen cabinets, reclaimed from the Rebuilding Center on Mississippi. The cash register is from 1908, and as much as possible, the appliances are refurbished or secondhand.
And despite all the conservation, there's expansion in the works—Pause Japanese Bistro is already set to open a second location at SW 9th and Washington in the next few weeks.
Pause Japanese Bistro
Rose City Food Park
5235 NE Sandy
Tues-Sat 11 am-7 pm, Sun noon-6 pm. Covered seating at cart pod.
Here Are a Few Other Places That Treat Tuna Right
This is one of my favorite food carts in town. Owner Dustin Olson's poke-style ahi tuna has substantial spice and is unfailingly fresh. It's the perfect topping on one of the best salads I've had the pleasure of consuming, and it's also great in the house tacos. 4262 SE Belmont
Sneak to the seafood department, where they're dishing up a lunch of champions: bowls of ahi poke over sticky rice and sesame-tinged seaweed salad. There's a variety of sauce options—I like the simple shoyu garlic with a touch of sriracha. 830 NW Everett
Yoko's Japanese Restaurant
I first visited Yoko's in my teens back when I considered tempura from Pioneer Place a fancy Japanese meal. Then Taka's Tuna happened; it's Yoko's signature creation, and it features a deep-fried rice ball topped with thin-sliced avocado and sesame-soaked chopped tuna. It is impossible to eat without little bits falling to the plate below in an effort to cram the whole shebang in your mouth. Order double what you think you'll want. It'll get eaten. 2878 SE Gladstone
Ohana Hawaiian Café
Just like the best menudo is only served on weekends, the same is true of the fresh bigeye ahi tuna poke at Ohana. Available Friday through Sunday, the good stuff is flown in from Hawaii when available, cubed and seasoned with Hawaiian sea salt, shoyu, sesame oil, onions, and fresh Hawaiian seaweed. It's made all the better with a Spam musubi or two. 6320 NE Sandy