THERE’S SOMETHING innately comforting about eating out of a bowl, and bowls Instagram like a fucking dream. Where would chili or chicken and dumplings be without a bowl? All over the damn place, that’s where. “Bowls” as a food concept are somewhat novel, but some of my favorite foods have always come out of bowls. Our own editor in chief is a fan of Black Bowl PDX [“Food Cart Review: Black Bowl PDX,” Blogtown, April 14], and if I’m being really vulnerable with you, I’ll admit I ain’t mad at a KFC Famous Bowl. Here are a few other places to get your fix.
I’ll admit, I was cynical about trying some of the twee “bowl” places, but Native Bowl’s and Canteen’s nutritionally dense and flavorful vegan bowls leave even an ardent omnivore like myself wanting for nothing. The Southern Bowl at Canteen (2816 SE Stark) and the Mississippi Bowl at Native Bowl (4233 N Mississippi) are both full of crunchy vegetables, rice, and meaty, sauce-soaked Soy Curls. At first I was like “what are these even”—but then I realized that gluten-free seitan lovers need their fix, too. If you sort of want Frito pie, but you’re “clean eating,” these bowls could fit the bill.
Bibimbap is one of the original rice bowls, and you can get perfectly good bibimbap without trekking out to Beaverton. There’s Kim Jong Grillin’, of course, and Toji on SE Hawthorne, but the dolsot bibimbap at So Kong Dong Tofu & BBQ (2850 SE 82nd, #11) comes out piping hot in a sizzling stone bowl, giving you the tantalizingly crispy-brown rice at the bottom. The toppings are pretty basic: browned beef, bean sprouts, shiitake mushrooms, with a raw egg on top. (If raw egg makes you squeam, you can stir it into the bottom of the bowl where it will cook in about a minute.) I fortified my bowl with the nibbly banchan that accompanied my meal, and it pairs great with a bottle of milky-sweet Korean alco-pop (makgeolli).
Boke Bowl (1028 SE Water, 1200 NW 18th) may be best known for their ramen, but their bibimbap-esque rice bowls are nothing to sneeze at, especially when there’s fried chicken involved. The fried chicken (tender/juicy boneless thigh) is stacked with sweet-pickled shiitake, kimchi, bean sprouts, arugula, and cukes, with julienned bamboo shoots that smell like your dad’s record collection. The rice is properly cooked and spiked with furikake. The hot sauces at the table are good for moistening everything, but the pickled mustard seed tartar sauce already does the trick nicely.
The gyudon at Yataimura Maru (3810 SE Division) is pretty good. The beef is sweet and tender, with lots of nearly caramelized onions, a generous sprinkling of slivered scallions, and a goodly wad of beni shoga (red pickled ginger) on top. A soft-poached egg comes in its own little bowl for you to stir in or skip at your discretion. But the Alaska don—a donburi of salmon sashimi and roe—is worth the extra couple bucks. The only critique my dining companion (who lived in Japan) had was that the rice is “just okay.” (The rice was also not really very hot—probably best for a sashimi bowl, but for cooking the poached egg whites, not even close.)
The Sudra (2333 NE Glisan), located at the Ocean pod (their St. Johns location recently burned down), serves up vegan Indian fare in a variety of formats. Made with the vegan holy trinity of kale, cauliflower, and cashews, the black lentil kofta is oddly satisfying despite being made of so many buzzfoods. And it’s a good choice if you’d rather just stick to vegetables and legumes instead of going Beyond Meat (Sudra’s go-to fake meat). Basmati rice comes topped with five falafel-ish lentil balls—soft and steamy on the inside, fried crunchy-brown on the outside—with roasted cauliflower and ever-present kale swimming in a delicate curried cashew cream. It comes with a dosa (flatbread) laced with even more kale, perfect for sopping all that rich sauce.
I suppose it would be a glaring omission not to mention the Whole Bowl (various locations, thewholebowl.com), which serves up something resembling a burrito in a bowl, if your burritos are typically kind of cold and layered improperly. Seriously, I can’t understand cheese that isn’t melted. And I wish there were a fried tortilla bowl option. Okay, I just want it to be a taco salad.