THERE'S VERY LITTLE to envy about the Southwest—it's uncomfortably hot all day and John McCain lives there. But if there's one thing I'd take from that desert wasteland, it's frybread. Frybread is a Navajo traditional staple found all over the Southwest, but it's a bit of a rarity in the Northwest. It's always confused me that frybread never took off like the taco or even the arepa. If I can get a South American-style arepa at New Seasons, how come I have to drive halfway to Bend to get good frybread?
Turns out Aaron and Jessica Grimmer of Picnic House and Barlow fame also felt a craving for the Navajo dish, so they opened High Noon, a counter service restaurant and cocktail bar. With trusty Picnic House chef Casey Gipson and Barlow cocktail consultant Tom Lindstedt in tow, High Noon is a Southwestern oasis in the desert of (where else?) Southwest Portland.
The menu is a mix 'n' match affair: $7 ($4 for a happy hour portion) gets you frybread, arepas, nachos, or salad, each available with brisket, achiote chicken, sweet pork, or grilled veggies, under a heap of toppings and either a creamy tomatillo or roasted pasilla sauce. The nacho chips are thick and crunchy, never drooping, even under the mountain of toppings. The corn-cake arepas are sturdy and substantive, too, and for all my nostalgic bloviating, I actually might prefer them to the frybread anyway. (The salads are good, but if you come to a place known for frying bread, you probably don't care about that.)
The frybread is solid, though: doughy and fluffy, but a little crispy on the outside and deceptively light. It's on the sweet side, so go with the arepas or nachos if you want the pork, but with chicken, brisket, or veggies, and pasilla sauce, the frybread hits the spot. Note that, for better or worse, you can't exactly pick it up and eat it with your hands, but that's only because it's covered with meat, chili, cheese, pickled onions, and maybe a whole cabbage.
The menu also includes enchiladas ($8) and tortilla soup ($6), but you should be focusing on the goat cheese relleno ($6). Tempura-battered, stuffed with rich, punchy goat cheese, and topped with enchilada sauce and more cheese, it's a share plate you might not share. And if that isn't enough flavor for you, get the flan ($4), which has enough vanilla extract involved that you can still taste the alcohol. I can see how it might be a bit Guy Fieri-esque, but I loved it.
As good as the food is, "counter service restaurant and cocktail bar" is an ugly string of words. It's hard to match the level of service one expects from a Barlow-related cocktail bar when most of the orders come through a physically separate counter. It's fine at lunch, when you're less likely to keep a tab open—but at night, there's something off-putting about the counter.
That might not be an issue, though. The location, despite neighbor Lúc Lác's late-night popularity, does not appear to be doing any favors for High Noon's nightlife status. In fact, high noon appears to be the only time High Noon is really as hopping as it ought to be. And that's a bummer, because it also has a worthwhile cocktail program and a thoughtful collection of mezcal and whiskey behind the bar.
The cocktails are mostly focused on agave spirits, including agave takes on classic drinks. The Mezcal Mule is pretty in a tin cup, but has the effect of a Presbyterian (the scotch and ginger cocktail, not the churchgoer), and the Bloody Maria is not as spicy as I'd like, though it's made with a tomato-mango juice, which is a smart move with tequila. There's also what I guess counts as a take on a negroni, since everything is a take on a negroni now: the light, floral Rojo Blanco ($9), made of Cocchi Rosa, Carpano Bianco, and tequila.
Like the cocktail list, the decor works best in sunlight. All retro furniture in tarnished chrome and bright Southwestern turquoises and yellows, surrounded by painted cow's skulls on the walls, it has the feel of a Jetstream trailer-turned-Airbnb in Joshua Tree. So even if it never manages to attract the cocktail clique, or poach from the hungry hordes across the street, High Noon is a worthy lunchtime oasis for downtown diners, but I imagine only the frybread freaks will go out of their way for it.
Open for lunch Mon-Fri 11 am-3 pm. Dinner: Mon-Sat 3 pm-midnight. Happy hour: Mon-Thurs 3-6 pm and 10 pm-midnight; Fri 3-6 pm and 10 pm-2 am; Sat 3 pm-2 am.