1324 N Killingsworth
It's as un-fancy as a space can get, on the ground floor of a house that's seen better days. Inside are three or so tables, and a tablecloth is hoisted up over the food prep area to separate the dining room from the kitchen. Much of the food is cooked outside on a grill, and the owners' young son sometimes runs in making robot and spaceship noises. The food's dirt cheap (it's cash only), and they give you a ton of it; that the food—the owners describe it as their version of Hawaiian and southeastern Asian comfort food—is uniformly delicious, and that said owners are entirely friendly, makes Lilikoi a vital, hunger-quashing asset to folks who live in the neighborhood. It's also well worth a trip down North Killingsworth for those from other corners of town looking for a cheap, stomach-stretching lunch.
Some things on Lilikoi's menu feel very Hawaiian, like the Mo Bettah Sandwich, with thick slabs of "sweet bread" housing egg, Spam, and kalua pork—the slow-roasted, shreddy pig meat commonly served at luaus. The sandwich is not so much greasy as it is buttery; the bread falls to bits under your touch, requiring the almost immediate use of fork and knife. I've never found Spam appetizing before, but the hefty chunk here, surrounded by flaky bread and a runny egg, becomes a sort of sweet, spongy sausage. It goes without saying that the sandwich is gratuitously appealing to a certain kind of eater, both as a belly-stuffing late breakfast (Likikoi opens at noon) and a way to firmly slam the book shut on whatever you had planned for the rest of the day.
Other things are unmistakably Asian, like the drunken noodles—thick, flat rice noodles with typical Thai adornment: egg, sprouts, basil, minimal vegetables. Or the vegan stir fry, inelegantly but effectively presented with enough tofu and vegetables to last through two helpings of leftovers. It isn't on the menu yet, but Lilikoi also offers a solid plate of fried rice with a choice of tofu, kalua pork, or tender, succulent shoyu chicken. Lilikoi doesn't serve booze; a sweet passion fruit tea is the specialty drink of the house ("liliko'i" means passion fruit). This is simple, hearty food with bright, easy-to-grasp flavors; it is, indeed, comfort food in the best sense of the word—served in comfort-sized portions at very comfortable prices. NED LANNAMANN
Ate Oh Ate
2454 E Burnside
The seemingly unstoppable forces behind Simpatica (the catering operation and dining hall) and Laurelhurst Market (the Portlandiest of Portland steak houses) have always emphasized the quality of their meat—the whole operation began when Ben Dyer purchased the butcher shop formerly known as Viande, and these days their butchery HQ is located at Laurelhurst Market. So it's a little funny that Simpatica's newest entry into the local dining scene has Spam on the menu—but Spam is a signifier of Hawaiian food, along with Asian influences, and Ate-Oh-Ate seems determined to provide an authentic Hawaiian experience.
But the restaurant, which offers "plate lunch" specials (typically a protein with rice and macaroni salad) like teriyaki bowls and roasted pork as well as sandwiches and daily fish specials, is still finding its feet. A Mahi Mahi sandwich seems reasonably priced at $8.95, until you see how big it is; the portion that's actual fish is smaller still, engulfed and overpowered by the sweet sesame bun. The green salad was inedibly overdressed and made a great argument for going the authentic route and ordering macaroni instead. (Better bets for next time, and cheaper, are the Kalua pig sandwich—smoked pork and cabbage—and the "Island Burger," a burger with avocado and pork belly.)
The Korean Chicken—fried chicken wings in a sugary chili sauce—is almost too sweet, but a daily special of the Korean dish bibimbap was outstanding, a bowl heaped with mild, house-made cucumber kimchi; tender, lightly charred chicken; and teriyaki beef, topped with a runny egg.
There's beer and cocktails on the menu, although the space has a utilitarian teriyaki-joint vibe in which a Mai Tai might seem incongruous. And while the menu doesn't acknowledge vegetarians, the counter staff was friendly enough that I wouldn't be too intimidated to ask about the possibility of whipping something up with all the rice, kimchi, and egg they've got lying around.
Ate-oh-Ate traces out territory similar to Biwa and Pok Pok, though less ambitiously so, by focusing on everyday regional cuisine of a sort that isn't widely seen in Portland. Whether the meat-heavy, Spammy offerings at Ate-Oh-Ate will resonate remains to be seen. ALISON HALLETT