1011 NW 16th, 226-1258

Often, copycats are pale replicas, like a faded memory of the original. Remarkably, though, Le Happy, a four-month-old crêpe cafe in the less-traveled blocks of Northwest Portland, is better than the restaurants that inspired it. After several trips to San Francisco, John Brodie--the manager for Pink Martini--was so taken by the crêpe shops that dot the corners in trendy neighborhoods there, that he decided to start one in his hometown. But with blood-red walls and a wildly varied menu, Le Happy just about shouts out its originality.

After living five years in San Francisco, with two popular crêpe cafes within walking distance from my apartment, I became somewhat of a connoisseur. I sussed out the nuances of pancake thickness and gained a respect for the originality it takes to pile a hodge-podge of condiments into the folds of the crêpe to make a meal right-on.

And let me tell you, Le Happy's mastered the crêpe. All of their crêpes are balanced and delicious, but the real value of the place is their ability to create distinct personalities in each crêpe. When we ate there on a recent Saturday evening, we ordered two different crêpes--the Ma Proveence, a piling of tender chicken, thyme, and fresh tomatoes, and the Demi-Vegan Tofu, a light Chinese dinner ladled with spicy peanut sauce and cucumbers.

From the Le Trash Blanc sprinkled with bacon bits and cheddar cheese (and a PBR for another 50 cents) to the Faux Vegan smothered with goat cheese and spinach, seemingly the only common denominator is the buckwheat crêpe itself--the foundation for each meal. But that is sort of like saying that all the meals are alike because they're all served on plates.

It is the dessert crêpes that most likely will grab a reputation for Le Happy. Made from white flour and vanilla beans (and, averaging $5, almost as expensive as the dinner plates) their sweet crêpes fold in about everything under the sun--poached pears, orange marmalade and Nutella.

My only complaint about Le Happy is that they are only open in the evenings, from 5 pm to 1 am, and not for lunch.