We’re all staying in for Hanukkah this year, right? Thanks to, you know… everything… it’s not a great time for communal gatherings, much less between two and eight of them in rapid fire. You know how we’re always like “I never know when Hanukkah is”? Let’s hold on to that energy for like… another six to eight months. It’s a lunar calendar, people, no one knows how it works! If your family calls you on it, commit to doing 16 days next December. Be prepared to negotiate up to 17 or 18, but hold the line at 20. There’s only so much chocolate gold a person can safely eat. So for now hunker down, start a Zoom room for dreidel games, and let’s talk takeout options!
The three competing themes of traditional Jewish holiday cuisine can be roughly categorized as “the old country” (typically Eastern Europe and Russia), “the new country” (here), and “the very, very old country” (Israel). The end result tends to be a pastiche of all three, passed through generations of families who assimilated to different degrees in different places. The good news is that Portland has some great options representing each branch of the diasporic family tree. Fair warning: Not all of these options are certified kosher, so you’ll have to do your homework if that’s a consideration.
The Old Country
Let’s start like they did in An American Tale on the frozen steppes of Russia. Our hometown slavic superstore Kachka has a good mix of traditional favorites on the menu year-round like borscht and Draniki (belerusian latkes), but this year they’re also offering a smoked brisket special and a “Latke Party for 2” which features roasted applesauce with toasted coriander, maitake mushroom gravy, and a truffled farmer’s cheese spread (it also comes with a dreidel in case the shoebox full of two dozen cheap plastic dreidels isn’t kept at your house). I’m also including an honorable mention for gastro-beerhall Stammtisch, which continues to sling the best impeccably crispy potato pancakes in Portland (under the teutonic sobriquet “kartoffelpuffer”).
The New Country
There are plenty of local options when it comes to traditional Midwestern mains like roast chicken or brisket, but for that specific vintage of East Coast deli the big two in Portland are Kornblatt's and Kenny & Zukes. Kornblatt’s has all the staples year-round, from latkes to liver to knishes, presented in a style that can best be described as “deli standard.” K&Z seems to have scaled back their offerings somewhat, but you can still load up on matzo ball soup and teetering ziggurats of pastrami, either via takeout or some make at home options (they may have a seasonal Hanukkah menu, but haven’t responded to my inquiries by press time). Vegetarian newcomer Ben & Esther's Bagels will be adding latkes to their menu and remains your best bet year-round if you’ve ever got a hankering for salmon-less salmon shmear. And for that ineffable sensation that only comes from eating catered food at home, the Mittleman Jewish Community Center's Cafe at the J has a pretty reasonable takeout menu with a solid lineup of holiday favorites.
Kornblatts, 628 NW 23rd, 503-242-0055, kornblattsdelipdx.com; Kenny & Zukes, 1038 SW Harvey Milk, 503-222-3354, kennyandzukes.com; Ben & Esther’s Bagels, 6912 NE Sandy, 503-477-5714, benandesthers.com; Cafe at the J, 6651 SW Capitol Hwy, 503-535-3630, oregonjcc.org
The Very, Very Old Country
Keeping with the meatless trend, upscale Israeli eatery Aviv will have a brace of vegan spins on traditional Hanukkah fare, with a special menu that will include jackfruit Brisket over matzah, roasted root vegetables, and grilled cheese latkes. Carnivores can go a few blocks over to Shalom Y’all, which won’t have a special Hanukkah menu, but will be your best bet for Israeli-versions of Middle Eastern cuisine.
Sufganiyot (pronounced Soof-GAH-NEE-yote) are, by my estimation, an excuse to eat jelly donuts for dinner—and who am I to deprive anyone of that? Any respectable dounuteer is going to have something with red in it, and that’ll do in a pinch. But for those seeking a more specifically festive experience, you’ve got options. Many of the restaurants listed above will have them, and there are a few specialty donut shops in town making an effort as well. The Hollywood District’s darling startup Doe Donuts will have a special lingonberry jam sufganiyot, alongside other inspired deep-fried creations. Berlinner-specialist Fills Donuts already has a chicken liver mousse donut on the menu, which has to be on someone’s Hanukkah bucket list, and head chef Leather Storrs said via email he’s experimenting with some Hanukkah-themed specials. Those seeking double Judaica points can venture to the Beaverton Krispy Kreme, which has certified kosher “Star of David” donuts filled with jelly and emblazoned with a frosting star.
Did you know that Portland has a genuine kosher brewery? We do! And the astutely named Leikam Brewing has a seasonal Winter IPA Maccabeer (with a little menorah on the can, naturally) on sale in supermarket beer aisles or via delivery straight from the brewery. Proceeds go to The House That Beer Built, a partnership between Habitat for Humanity Portland/Metro East and local craft breweries. They also have a beer called Eight Days a Week which might be a reference to Hanukkah and has a little hedgehog on the can.
Doe Donuts, 4110 NE Sandy, 503-333-4404, doedonuts.com; Fills Donuts, 2737 SW Washington, 503-477-5994; Krispy Kreme Beaverton, 16415 NW Cornell, 503-645-2228, krispykreme.com/location/beaverton; Leikam Brewing, 5812 E Burnside, 503-477-5246, leikambeer.com