Epif welcomes guests in through an intricately carved front door from Peru.
Epif welcomes guests in through an intricately carved front door from Peru. Janey Wong

Prior to relocating to Portland, Epif owners Nicolle Dirks and her husband Pepe Arancibia previously owned a vegetarian restaurant in his native Chile. Now their stateside restaurant is close to home for them… literally. The couple designed and constructed the commercial building for Epif right in front of their home along NE 28th’s restaurant corridor. A dream commute, to be sure.

The bar program at Epif revolves around pisco, a grape-based liquor produced in the winemaking regions of Peru and Chile (both countries claim it as their national drink). Peru takes a purist stance in its production—the spirit must be produced in copper pot stills and they don’t add any flavor, resulting in a clear-colored product. Chile on the other hand is more experimental, adding flavors and even aging their pisco in oak barrels. Epif proudly stocks every single pisco that Oregon allows for import. Dirks likens it to vodka in that it works very well with the flavors it's paired with. Pisco has a sweeter and more distinct flavor than vodka, which tends to be more neutral.

Most drinkers are likely familiar with the Pisco Sour, which of course makes an appearance on the cocktail menu, but Epif celebrates the high-proof spirit in other inventive craft drinks and with tasting flights. “I’ve never met anybody who doesn’t like pisco, it’s more just that they’ve never tried it,” says Dirks. Although not currently available, the flights—one regular, one with house-made infusions—will return once regular service resumes. Prior to the shutdown, the infusions spanned the flavor wheel from warm profiles like coffee-orange and cinnamon clove to fresher flavors like cucumber and apple-ginger.

On the food side of things, Epif specializes in cuisine found in the Andes region of South America. This cuisine is known for being meat-centric, but the restaurant puts their own spin on traditional dishes. Along with everything being 100 percent vegan, diners with dietary restrictions can find a number of options that are gluten free, nut free, soy free, and sugar free.

As a certified cat lady, I had to stay true to myself and get the “Kitten Snuggles.” The pretty pink drink contains Chilean Pisco Capel, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, mango, raspberry syrup, and lemon. The cocktail has a lovely flavor that is sure to brighten the day of anyone who drinks it, just like an actual kitten snuggle. It’s well balanced, the right level of sweetness, and has distinctive grape notes without treading into Dimetapp territory.

Through the five years they’ve been open, Epif has amassed an archive of signature cocktails from bar keepers past and current bartender Rebecca Bradford. Dirks and Bradford are responsible for the cocktails’ cute and punny names, which add a touch of whimsy to their solidly delicious drinks.

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“We did a little experiment… we have a cocktail that’s been around for a while and it used to be called ‘El Condor Pasa’ [after] the old song. It’s like a pisco Old Fashioned and delicious, I drink it all the time. It wasn’t selling very much, but then we decided to change the name to ‘The Llama of My Dreams’ and boom! Sales went up!” Dirks divulges.

As head chef and the person whose taste buds are most finely tuned on pisco, hubby Arancibia ultimately has the final word when new cocktails are tested. Epif’s cocktails to-go are all made to order and the restaurant encourages returning the glass jars they’re served in for a deposit refund and to help them reduce waste.

Epif, 404 NE 28th, (971) 254-8680, epifpdx.com