Katie Hinkle
If bars were books, the Shanghai Tunnel would exist in the genre we call "Dive Bar.Ó It's a wonderful place to hang out, bustling and lively, with a hip downtown location and an admirable booze selection--but it's also a dive bar. It's poorly lit, and it's primarily underground with poor air circulation, which means it smells like an ashtray full of burning hair... on slow nights. I write these things with love, of course. Dive bars are genres unto themselves, in their own way as important to city life as, say, pulp fiction is to literature. But it's important you realize exactly what we're dealing with here, to better understand the Shanghai Tunnel's culinary achievement. What it has done is equivalent to a piece of pulp fiction receiving the most favorable critical accolades of the year. Imagine Danielle Steele winning the National Book Award and you'll understand what I mean when I say the Shanghai is a dive bar... with the best food in Portland.

There's no way I can prove such a bold claim, but I can at least explain the reasoning behind it. Yes, Blue Hour probably has a dish comparable to, and perhaps even better than the Tunnel's pepper-encrusted seared Ahi Tuna meal with a crispy sweet potato pancake. But does Blue Hour offer this savory treat for EIGHT DOLLARS!!? And yes, I believe the Portland City Grill serves pot stickers as succulent as the Shanghai's, but can you visit the Grill at 11:30 pm (AFTER Happy Hour) and obtain them and their delicious dipping sauce for FIVE BUCKS!? I strongly doubt it. Simply put, in terms of what you get for what you pay, the Shanghai is the best.

The Shanghai nachos: Four dollars. A reasonable price for a dive bar staple that would, at say the Sandy Hut, get you a generous helping of generic corn chips with cheese melted on them. At the Shanghai it fetches you an enormous plate of crispity, crunchity Paradise. The Shanghai's nacho chips aren't chips as much as they are individual bubbles of seasoned puff, baked to perfection in the Shanghai's own ovens. And they come smothered, not with generic cheddar, but with smooth, creamy Queso and homemade salsa. If it's a full meal you're craving, you need only two dollars more for "Da Bomb,Ó a froigin' HUGE blackbean burger with french fries. You won't be able to get your mouth around the goddamn thing it's so big, and yet it doesn't crush one molecule of delicious taste with its unparalleled heartiness.

Or try one of the Shanghai's infamous, HUGE seven-dollar noodle bowls, which come with three delectable sauces: peanut, mushroom, and sweet & sour, and with chicken, fried tofu, or prawns. You can also substitute the noodles with fluffy Jasmine rice, or pile on a generous helping of spicy Korean beef and sautéed vegetables for only a dollar more.

The Shanghai Tunnel is nothing like the Orient it suggests, but it still offers a journey to another place. A place where meals blessed with an almost ethereal sense of artistry and flavor walk hand in hand with nicotine stains and sticky floors. A place where the average jobless Portlander can spend their unemployment check on a decent--scratch that, an incredible meal, and still afford rent later down the road.

With the unparalleled literary status the Mercury has afforded me, I hereby award the Shanghai Tunnel the Pulitzer Prize.