Michael Mitarnowski

With Sal's Famous Italian Kitchen, a branch of the Mio Sushi tree, the upscale Cajun-themed Roux, and now, restaurant/full bar Sagittarius, the area around North Killingsworth and Greely has slowly and quietly defied expectations to become a veritable dining destination. Sagittarius in and of itself wouldn't be enough to drag my flat ass all the way out there from my Southeast abode, but it's a crucial part of what is quickly becoming a thriving regional whole. Friendly and cozy, with deep red walls and an array of affordable menu items that put little twists on classic dishes, it's the definition of what a quirky neighborhood joint should be, and the only reason I wouldn't travel to it is because I already have my quirky neighborhood joint. It's in my neighborhood.

'Course, it's also important to venture out sometimes, and if you find yourself a-travelin' it's hard to go wrong with Sagittarius, which has something for everyone, especially if everyone likes crispy pepper bacon. The cooks at Sagittarius are apparently quite fond of crispy pepper bacon and lavish it on several dishes. My Baby Luau chicken sandwich with gingered mango chutney came with not one, not two, but FOUR thick slabs of bacon, enough to stop a lesser man's heart. I'm not sure if I'm complaining or not—the bacon was quite tasty and perfectly cooked, but almost completely masked the chicken itself. The sandwiches are paired with corn chips that can be substituted with fries for only 50 cents. It's two quarters worth losing, as Sagittarius' homemade real-potato fries are possibly the best I've tasted in Portland.

Sandwiches and burgers rule the menu at Sagittarius. The burgers are pretty standard, with a blue-cheese edition, and one with, yup, crispy pepper bacon, but some of the more creative sandwiches include the BLATZ with lettuce, avocado, tomato, grilled zucchini, basil pesto, and... wait for it... wait for it... that's right, crispy pepper bacon. The poorly named Nutty Mozzer (sounds like sex talk to me) works too, with baby spinach, more basil pesto, mozzarella, toasted pine nuts (fuckin' YUM), and no crispy pepper bacon.

Carb-haters have some rather interesting salads to choose from at Sagittarius, including the Wild Thing with organic field greens, pear, spiced pecans, blue-cheese crumbles, and a ginger-curry vinaigrette. I sampled the extremely weird Citrus Couscous Salad with chickpeas, raw red onions, cilantro, raisins, and tzatziki. The crumbly, cold couscous base didn't work for me, but I admired the artistic expression involved with the dish.

What it comes down to is that Sagittarius is making reasonably priced comfort food but trying to spike it with offbeat ingredients to give it a little zest. They have a gourmet attention to detail, but they're not making gourmet food. Sagittarius is at its best when it sticks to the basics, like the aforementioned French fries, and the rosemary mac entrée, a decadent dish of creamy parmesan-cheddar mac and cheese that will fill your stomach in approximately two bites. Or the halibut fish and chips with mango chutney. These disparate dishes fail to add up to a greater sum, but like Sagittarius itself, each is part of something that is getting better all the time.