Signature cocktails such as The Hurricane, festive colors, beads and masks may entice you to enter the New Orleans experience found at Portland’s Tapalaya, but it’s the surprising multi-cultural cuisine that will keep you coming back. Tapalaya beautifully reflects New Orleans’ rich cultural traditions and now features Asian-Cajun dishes in an updated, exciting tapas menu.
Why New Orleans Cuisine is Special
New Orleans, the famous Gulf Coast city, certainly reflects the traditions of the French who settled the area in the 1700’s. But that is only part of the story. It is said that the local indigenous people bartered with colonial French settlers for European trade goods and, in turn, introduced the French to locally-grown foods and herbs, including corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, and melons. Add in the shellfish and wild game and the tradition of Creole cuisine was born.
Africans came as slaves to Louisiana. Their food traditions had a lasting influence on Creole cuisine, starting with the introduction of okra and gumbo, derived from West African “gombo” stew made with okra.
And then there were the French Acadians who were given land grants up the Mississippi from New Orleans and moved into the swamps, bayous, and prairies of Louisiana to farm the land. They raised their own meat. Their culinary traditions evolved to be the Cajun food we know today. Cajun food reflects this rural influence, featuring wild game, pork, beef, and cured and fresh sausages.
People from Spain, Germany and France came to Louisiana and brought with them their tastes in food. But this blending of rich culinary traditions is not just relegated to early history. If you haven’t been to New Orleans, you may not be aware of the influx of Vietnamese refugees escaping the incoming Communist regime at the end of the Vietnam War. Many Vietnamese fled to America in the mid-1970s, and quite a large number settled in Louisiana. Vietnamese culinary tradition has made its mark on the traditional Cajun/ Creole cuisine too.
Tapalaya Reflects New Orleans’ Vibrant Heritage
All this is being played out daily at Tapalaya on NE 28th Avenue, one of Portland’s trendy dining streets. And this is the reason you will want to dine there. Whether it is a signature cocktail, small plate or full dinner, you’ll savor the cuisine, both the traditional and the blended. For inside Tapalaya, you’ll find a fusion of culinary traditions rooted in that which makes New Orleans such an important destination.
Tapalaya’s reputation is due to the vision of owner Chantal Angot, and the heritage and creativity of Chef Anh Luu. Born in New Orleans where she grew up with her Vietnamese family, Chef Anh Luu experienced a melding of culinary cultures early in her childhood. She grew up with the flavors of Southeast Asia from her parents’ cooking alongside the classic French, Spanish, Caribbean and African cuisine of New Orleans. This delicious culinary melange inspired her years later to create the unique Asian-Cajun tapas cuisine that she and owner Chantal Angot have introduced at Tapalaya in Portland, Oregon.
The Tapalaya Experience
Building upon the restaurant’s contemporary Cajun/Creole tapas cuisine, Angot and Luu recently launched Vietnamese-inspired special dishes and introduced a new menu featuring their Asian-Cajun tapas cuisine. Look for the small special menu.
When you dine at Tapalaya you’ll be able to choose from a range of dishes. If you like traditional Vietnamese, it will be there. Try the Vietnamese coconut caramelized pork with pickled mustard greens. If you prefer to reminisce about your days in the deep south, you can try something like the blackened shrimp or catfish po’boy.
You’ll find dishes that you might expect to be traditional Cajun or Creole. But when you taste them, you’ll find some Asian influence. It might be the addition of lemongrass or it might be the hint of fish sauce that surprises you. Foodies will be drawn to these innovations.
While trying something new is fun and exciting, I always appreciate basic food that is done well and has just a small creative twist. At Tapalaya, I savored some of the basics and appreciated what Chef Ahn had done with them. The creamy grits, a southern staple, was noteworthy. Try their Grillades and Grits, slow braised beef cheeks with onion gravy, and you’ll get hooked. Order their fried chicken and you’ll not only get excellent buttermilk fried chicken, you’ll experience their delightful bourbon pecan syrup (served on the side).
And ask your server about what’s new. After sampling such a range of tastes and traditions, I thought there was nothing more Tapalaya could do to surprise and delight me. Wrong! For dessert we were offered something new… rice pudding with red bean ice cream and red bean caramel sauce. And it was amazing. This was a wonderful send-off after an evening in Portland’s little bit of New Orleans.
Tapalaya prides themselves on serving locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. The food is fresh, prepared to order and they are responsive to those who might be vegan, vegetarian or have food allergies.
Tapalaya Facebook Page
28 NE 28th Avenue
Portland, OR 97232
Lunch, Dinner and Happy Hour
See Also: Tapalaya Review from Portland Sustainable Foods Examiner
Note: As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with a complimentary meal for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.