Always on the lookout for new and delicious ways to get my food fix here in PDX, last Monday I went to the food mecca that is SE 82nd Avenue......wait, food mecca AND 82nd Avenue?? Maybe, if you want to eat your Big Mac in the used car you just bought off one of the innumerable car dealers with the hooker you just picked up on the street. At least that is the shared perception. But as in most cities, where suburbanites fear to tread are where food cognoscenti know to find some of the best places to nosh on authentic Asian food. Where the rents are cheap is where the newly minted communities set up their shops, serving their native foods to others who miss that taste of home. I had read about Ha and Vl on the website of our local fishwrap The Oregonian, where Karen Brooks raved about their hand crafted bowls of noodle soup. Tasting is believing, so Monday morning found me pulling into the parking lot of the charmingly named Wing Ming Square, a mini-mini mall of all things Asian and entering through the portal of Ha and Vl. There's something exceedingly satisfying knowing that at 9:30 in the morning, when most office workers are wiping the powdered sugar off their shirts from that donut they just pounded, I'm sitting down for what turned out to be perhaps the best bowl of soup I've had in town. The room itself is fairly small, with brightly painted walls, and a TV in the corner that on this morning was playing a Steven Seagal blow-'em-up movie. Perhaps the perfect backdrop to the flavor explosions that were going on in my mouth from my bowl of Bun Rieu, a shrimp paste based broth with loads of noodles and pieces of pork, soft tofu, peppers, onion, and tomato with just the right chili bite to slap the last of the morning funk out of my head. Incredibly fresh, you can taste the care that goes into each bowl. Every day they do one soup (two on Sundays) that is usually sold out by noon. At $7 for a very large bowl, this is about as good as breakfast can get! Also don't miss their perfect Vietnamese coffee. I ordered it in "strong" mode. Like Steven Seagal, if I'm going in, I'm going in hard! Also Tanya (Tonia? Tonya?), who is the daughter of owners Owners Ha Luu and William Voung H. (the "ha" and "Vl" of the name) was SO nice. I've also got my eye on their exceedingly affordable bahn mi sandwiches. This is the real deal, and worth the trip to the badlands of east Portland. And for all you B&T'ers who travel in trepidation, don't worry, the hookers usually don't hit the streets until the afternoon...um, so I've heard.
Ha and Vl, 2738 S.E. 82nd Ave., 503-772-0103, 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Monday-Friday and 8 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday
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In Portland Genoa Restaurant for over three decades was a Portland institution, a temple of Italian food that garnered loads of national press for it's authentic, usually impeccably prepared food. It was also the incubator for several of Portland's current top chefs, including Kevin Gibson of Castagna and Evoe, Cathy Whims at Nostrana, and John Taboada of Navarre among many others. There's been much hand-wringing over it's recent closure, with everyone saying what a loss it is and how could this happen. Yes, it was one of the first restaurants in town that showed how good serious restaurant dining can be. But I have to take issue with owner Kerry DeBuse's explanation that the current economic downturn had been lethal to his restaurant: "I've seen serious recessions over the decades at Genoa," DeBuse told The Oregonian, "but nothing to compare to the economic meltdown in which we now find ourselves. We cannot continue as an economically viable business." Gee, does that sound familiar? Like the auto moguls on view in the District this week, Mr. DeBuse seemingly wasn't willing to change with the times. His contention that "it all changed 180 degrees within a week of the recent (Wall Street) crash" isn't exactly a mea culpa. These things don't happen overnight. Stubbornly clinging on to his expensive, fixed-price, special occasion only menu like Ford clinging to its SUV hegemony, rather than offering ala carte options to make it more accessible to the masses, he saw customers leaving for the less expensive options in town when they wanted that "night out" experience. His corner location was also a prime spot, and I could never figure out how they wouldn't open it up to the street, drawing people in by making them curious as to what was happening inside, instead keeping the windows facing SE Belmont covered in a tired, frankly unattractive dull reddish wrap. The restaurant business is like any other be it cars, newspapers, my wine business, what have you. Like the dinosaurs found out, those who fail to adapt to changing times become pieces of history.