Tapalaya is known for its small plates of New Orleans cuisine, served on NE 28th Avenue’s restaurant row in Portland, Oregon. Now New Orleans-born, Vietnamese chef Anh Luu is adding her own twist with nightly Southeast Asian menu specials.
New Orleans cuisine has always blended cultures and cooking traditions, and this new layer celebrates her roots. A large Vietnamese population made New Orleans their home after the war, settling in among fellow Catholics in a familiar sub-tropical climate.
Tapalaya sources many fruits, vegetables, meats, and seafood from local farms and farmer’s markets in Portland, the Willamette Valley and Vancouver, Washington. I enjoyed the colorful and informal dining room. It delivers New Orleans flare while feeling cozy, and the noise level was acceptable even with a packed weeknight dining room.
We sampled some of the dishes offered with an Asian twist:
· Pono Farms Steak Tartare with pho seasoning, quail eggs and five spice chips: as a tartare fan, I enjoyed the play of the five spice with the beef tartare.
· Vietnamese Coconut Caramelized Pork with pickled mustard greens: I loved the precise carmelization, adding a subtle glaze that delivered the flavor without forming a glutinous coating. The play with the pickled greens was delightful.
· Crawfish Etouffee with roasted chiles, lemongrass, and shrimp paste. I love etouffee, and the slight twist played well with the classic.
· Green Papaya and Beef Jerky Salad: with carrots, cilantro and lemongrass-soy dressing was spicy and refreshing.
· Rice pudding with red bean ice cream and red bean caramel sauce; This dessert stole the show. Don’t miss it if you see it on the menu.
We also sampled Tapalaya’s traditional New Orleans offerings. The buttermilk fried chicken with bourbon pecan sauce was juicy with a perfectly crisp coating and the sauce was plate-licking wonderful.The BBQ Jumbo Gulf Prawns with grits in a Worcestershire and black pepper sauce were excellent and I didn’t let any of the sauce escape, it was worth sopping up with grits or bread. The Grillades and Grits (braised beef cheeks in onion gravy) also pleased. I enjoyed the vinegary braised greens, which can be prepared either with bacon or vegetarian. The red beans and rice were superb.
The small plates are in the $4-7 range and bigger plates $8-12, plus sandwiches for $6 including PoBoys and a pork belly banh mi.
The bar serves up traditional and craft cocktails as well as well-curated French and local wines and beers. Signature cocktails include the Hurricane, Uptown NOLA and Sazerac.
Born to Vietnam War refugees in New Orleans, Luu and her family evacuated from New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. With their home under 15 feet of water, Luu’s family moved to Portland, Oregon while she remained in New Orleans attending school and working in restaurants. She followed her family to Portland and attended the Western Culinary Institute. Luu was hired as Second in Charge at Tanuki, Chef/Owner Janice Martin’s izakaya. Luu was hired as Head Chef at Tapalaya in May 2013.
Tapalaya also has a Nightly Seafood Boil featuring shrimp from the Gulf of Mexico or locally-sourced crawfish and Taco Tuesdays, offering Blackened Catfish tacos with charred ginger Pico de Gallo or Beef Cheek tacos with salsa verde, among other rotating options.
Tapalaya is located at 28 NE 28th Avenue in Northeast Portland. They are open for lunch and have a daily happy hour. You can enjoy live New Orleans music on Tuesday and Thursday evenings. They have gluten-friendly, vegetarian and vegan options.