THE UNSEXY, undiscovered specialty stand, far-afield and off the popular radar, is a holy grail of mine. Whether it's a flat stone in a hidden field in Estacada where a crock of fondue materializes every hour*, or a man making pressed duck à la Tour d'Argent in the back of his car in the Value Village parking lot, I will gladly follow even the weakest of leads to find it.
Over the years I've come across them here and there, but this spring yielded a few in rapid succession, so I took a break from the grind and wrote them up for your next journey off the grid. They might not be news to some of you, but they're hardly media darlings, or likely to become ones. If you find yourself waiting in line, it will likely be behind someone of the same ethnicity as the proprietor.
SW Cedar Hills (last seen in the parking lot of the 76 gas station at the SW Canyon intersection), Beaverton, 567-0048
A cemita is a sandwich, but it is distinctly not the more common torta, and has a specific set of ingredients. The name comes from the large, sesame-seeded, brioche-like circular roll, and it's filled with meats like thin-pounded, fried milanesa or pierna, mixed Mexican cheeses like crumbly, salty cotija and the stringy quesillo, avocado, thick chipotle-based salsa roja, and onions. If you're lucky they'll have the signature papalo leaf (herbal and citrusy), though both places I've had cemitas grimaced apologetically when asked if they had any. "Later today, maybe," they said, using the word "maybe" to suggest "we never have that."
La Poblana's milanesa de res version ($7.50) was meal sized, and hit flavor and texture high notes across the board. It eats beautifully and cleanly, and it's a masterpiece of a sandwich blueprint that has me wondering why we don't see more of them closer in.
Grant's Philly Cheesesteaks
15350 NE Sandy, 252-8012
Specialty: Philadelphia-style cheesesteaks
It's an unassuming little shack on a green stretch of road eight miles east of the intersection of MLK and Lombard, and they fly the ideally suited Amoroso rolls in from Philadelphia for one of the best cheesesteaks in Portland. Remarkably tender, thinly sliced sirloin is grilled with or without onions and sweet/hot peppers (get both), and bound with your choice of melted cheese. Yes, they have the traditional Cheez Whiz version, but with that and their "Grant's Original" provolone version in front of me, the decision easily went to the Original. The Whiz was a little thin and runny when hot—one of those messy and proudly defended traditions of which I am well aware—while the provolone integrated so perfectly it nearly infused the meat. On one visit I ordered two, planned to eat a third of each, and helplessly finished both. They do not, amazingly, drip much grease.
10528 NE Sandy, 252-1881
Specialty: German breads, pastries, charcuterie, cheeses, prepared foods
The German-owned and operated Northeast outpost of a shop in Tigard, the German Bakery is more like a small market specializing in everything you'd need for a convincing Frühstück or world-class picnic. They smoke a variety of meats, make their own smoothly textured and juicy sausages, bake a half-dozen varieties of rye, boast three cases full of Sachertorte, strudels, and kuchen... and that's just the tip of the iceberg. My shopping list for next Saturday: smoky, thin-sliced, housemade Black Forest speck, Butterkäse, pretzel rolls (their light texture and size make them ideal for a sandwich), a tub of vinegary potato salad, a sleeve of wurst from their selection of over a dozen, and as much of the moist, rich marzipan torte as they have on hand.
The shelves hold 100 or more varieties of imported canned goods, cookies, snacks, and German beers, and they also make sandwiches to order.
London Pasty Company
8145 SE 82nd (Cartlandia pod), 616-6571
Specialty: British pasties
The corned beef and potato pasty at this cart in the deep Southeast is meal sized and deeply grounding. Encased in a light, tender crust (British owner/operator Jane Hayes bakes both sweet and savory items from scratch), it's the idealized form of the pocket pie. She typically offers steak and potato, cheese and onion, and breakfast versions (along with $3.75 sausage rolls, and sides of brown gravy), but the corned beef pasty, which started as a St. Patrick's Day lark, is her finest creation. The sweet version of her crust is used for seasonal berry pies, as well as a rich, silken chocolate cream pie ($4) that's the perfect answer to the six pounds you'll burn off biking down there.
* They use inferior kirsch and the bread was overproofed on both visits.